A lifetime of learning, sharing and eating; now this is what cooking is all about! The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchenby Jacques Pépin is a fun and amazing autobiography that I simply couldn’t put down as I read it. A classically trained French Chef, Pépin, the well known and likable culinary personality, great friend of Julia Child and other notables, chronicles his life in this book filled with a mix of serious and funny memories and stories that provide a simple, yet profound perspective on cooking and life. The book conveys a love for family, tradition and cooking all with ease and feeling as if you were having a conversation with an old friend or even Jacques himself.
Born of modest beginnings, the book starts with Jacques recounting his life growing up in France during World War 2, and at a young age immediately discovering a love for food and cooking. Incorporating poingent stories of family history and learning, he describes his call to the stove to further his education in cooking by becoming an apprentice at a well respected hotel far from home at the young age of thirteen. Jacques Pépin moves through a life of culinary adventures, quickly rising the ranks to work for notable figures such as Charles de Galle and Howard Johnson. He then moves on to successful ventures such as a soup business in New York City, cooking demos and classes that are fully booked years in advance as well as a couple of television series. Through hard work, occaisional mishaps and sheer determination, his learning transforms him into a well respected man of great talent, aptitude and accomplishment.
Even through misadventures and misunderstandings Pépin is always likable, easily making friends and garnering support for his ideals. As his success and lessons unfolded, I constantly found myself reflecting on my own training and learning, identifying with commonality of vision and enjoyment in cooking.
If one thing can be said about this book, it is that it demonstrates a pure love of cooking by its author and a desire to make people happy through it. Unpretentious, down-to-earth, warm and insightful, this writing is captivating from the very first chapter to the last. As I mentioned, I simply could not put this book down as I followed Jacques’ evolution into the culinary luminary he is today.
At his core, Jacque is a teacher keenly focused on the next generation of cooks. In an era where it was the norm, he honed his craft through hard work, creativity, rigorous training and time. The same is required today to be successful in any endeavor, though he takes it to the next level for this generation, understanding that time seems to be a luxury noone has anymore.
His mission to teach others was furthered by becoming a founding dean of the French Culinary Institute in New York, a top tier culinary institution in the Unite States and the world with its roots steeped in French tradition as well as a co-creator of the gastronomy program at Boston University. His love for teaching guides him to condense his lifetime of experience into a learning path fit for today’s “right now” society. While taking a steady path of learning over a lifetime does sound romantic I can also more clearly see the value in an accelerated learning program and in enrolling in culnary school. The idea of learning from others and their successes as well as their mistakes is something my father constantly tries to instill in me and is a valuable lesson in effeciency of time, something we are all limited in and is arguably our most valuable asset.
My only regret with this book was that it was not longer. A lifetime of culinary experience proved to be exciting and was probably nearly impossible to write without leaving out equally pivotal memories and captivating stories. I encourage anyone with an interest in cooking or a great true story to read this book and as Jacques is known for saying, “Happy Cooking”.