Jacques Pepin is one of the world's greatest chefs and his latest book, Heart and Soul in the Kitchen, is filled with personal anecdotes and stories from his legendary career. We chatted with the culinary giant about his food industry beginnings, his impressions of Julia Child, James Beard and Craig Claiborne, and where he thinks the future of American food lies.
Listen to our full chat with Jacques Pepin above, and catch some of the highlights from our conversation below:
On coming to America: "When I arrived in the kitchen here I think the 10th or 11th of September 1959, the day after I went to the Pavillon. And Pierre [Franey] told me well you can start tomorrow if you want; I say great, fine, terrific and I ended up calling him monsieur and chef and he said, "No, no, no, my name is Pierre, you call me Pierre." So that was very democratic to me, in France it was quite different."
On the fight that split Henri Soule and Pierre Franey at Le Pavillon: "Soule was refusing to give any increase to the staff in the kitchen... Pierre had a big argument with him and he said well "I've been fighting so long for that so if it's like this I'm leaving." And then came me, who just came from Paris and in Paris usually there was this saying that, when the chef leaves we all go behind the chef and support the chef and the whole brigade, we call it brigade, I mean the whole kitchen team follows. So I had a big mouth I guess at the time. I wanted everyone to follow Pierre and then I didn't speak English or very little, and I had those two gentleman with big hats who came to the locker room for me. They grabbed me, put me against the wall and even though I did not understand English very well, I understood."
On being offered the position of White House Executive Chef in 1960: "I was actually offered a job at the White House for President Kennedy and I have to say at the time I had absolutely no inkling of the potential because as I said the chef was still very low on the social scale... And in fact, Rene Verdon was the man who went there eventually. He was a good friend of mine. We started with pictures, because Mrs. Kennedy took pictures with him too. It was the 60s, it was women's liberation, organic gardening, health food stores, a whole social upheaval, you know? But it started there because if you ask anyone who was the chef at the White House before Rene Verdon, it was a black lady probably from the south. No one would have known her name no more than they knew my name when I was in France or would have been here. So that was the way it was."
On his impressions of Julia Child, James Beard and Craig Claiborne: "Julia was exactly the way she was on television or out of television. James Beard was, I mean if you look at the old show of James Beard he wasn't particularly great on television but certainly, at that time television was like being a voyeur. They tell you don't look at the camera, the television--you don't know the television is there so you never look at the camera so sometimes you were on 10, 15, 20 seconds before anyone said one word so it's totally different from now when they tell you to make contact with the camera, talk to the camera, and so forth. And Craig, I mean James Beard everyone knows his name because of when we created the Beard award and the Beard House in New York. Actually, after he died most of it was sold and then the organization came together and most of the stuff, we're trying to re-buy to keep the Beard house alive... So his name is kind of secure, just like Julia. Craig unfortunately, a lot of people don't know who he is even in cooking school where I teach at Boston University or the Culinary Institute in New York."