In this captivating memoir, the man whom Julia Child has called “the best chef in America” tells the story of his rise from a frightened apprentice in an exacting Old World kitchen to an Emmy Award–winning superstar who taught millions of Americans how to cook and shaped the nation’s tastes in the bargain.
We see young Jacques as a homesick six-year-old boy in war-ravaged France, working on a farm in exchange for food, dodging bombs, and bearing witness as German soldiers capture his father, a fighter in the Resistance. Soon Jacques is caught up in the hurly-burly action of his mother's café, where he proves a natural. He endures a literal trial by fire and works his way up the ladder in the feudal system of France’s most famous restaurant, finally becoming Charles de Gaulle’s personal chef, watching the world being refashioned from the other side of the kitchen door.
When he comes to America, Jacques immediately falls in with a small group of as-yet-unknown food lovers, including Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and Julia Child, whose adventures redefine American food. Through it all, Jacques proves himself to be a master of the American art of reinvention: earning a graduate degree from Columbia University, turning down a job as John F. Kennedy’s chef to work at Howard Johnson’s, and, after a near-fatal car accident, switching careers once again to become a charismatic leader in the revolution that changed the way Americans approached food. Included as well are forty all-time favorite recipes created during the course of a career spanning nearly half a century, from his mother’s utterly simple cheese soufflé to his wife’s pork ribs and red beans.
The Apprentice is the poignant and sometimes funny tale of a boy’s coming of age. Beyond that, it is the story of America’s culinary awakening and the transformation of food from an afterthought to a national preoccupation.
The sparkling personality, sense of humor, and charm familiar to Jacques Pépin's television audiences carries over to the page in the superstar chef's humbly titled memoir, The Apprentice
A clever, mischievous, and very likable boy, Pépin's earliest food memories are hungry ones from his childhood in war-torn France. After World War II, his first restaurant job was peeling potatoes for his mother at her restaurant, and he became an apprentice in a hotel kitchen at age 13. In this delightful tale he works hard, plays fair, is kind to others and good to his family, and his efforts take him to Paris, and then New York. Except for the terrible car accident that required him to reinvent himself as a teacher and television personality, he seems to have always been in the right place at the right time. He cooked for Prime Minister Gaillard and then General Charles de Gaulle, met Pierre Franey, Craig Claiborne, and Julia Child, and turned down a job cooking for JFK to accept one with Howard Johnson. But just as entertaining and enjoyable to read about are his tender memories and thoughts about his relationships with his parents and brothers, and with his wife and daughter.
We all wish we could cook like Pepin (and every chapter ends with one of Pépin's favorite recipes), but this enchanting tale will make you wish you knew him. The clear, simple way he expresses himself and the honesty with which he tells his story will bring you to tears, and make you laugh out loud. --Leora Y. Bloom