Something about foodie memoirs makes me devour them almost as fast as I can devour a sheet cake or box of Little Debbies. Julia Child’s My Life in France, any of Ruth Reichl’s books, and now Jacques Pepin. I know what you are thinking, how dare I mention these food luminaries in the same paragraph as sheet cake and Little Debbie. I am nothing if not a man of contradictions. I am quite a good home cook and home baker and I have a pretty sophisticated palate. But darn if I don’t like me some low cost sugar and shortening. And did I ever tell you about the time I ate brownies out of the garbage? It was years before Miranda did it on Sex in the City.
But back to M Pepin. Unlike Julia Child, I didn’t really know any of Pepin’s story until I read this memoir. I am not even sure when I first became aware of him and I really didn’t know how he came to prominence. Now I do, and his story surprises me more than a little. He started out his apprenticeship at the age of 13 after pleading with his parents to let him leave school so he follow his passion for food. Since his restauranteur mother got him into the kitchen in the first place, it didn’t take too much to convince his parents. It is these early years of Pepin’s story that I most liked. After proving himself in various capacities, making his way around the kitchens of Lyon and then Paris Pepin is less than excited when he is drafted into the French military while that country was at war in Algeria. Instead of heading off to the war zone, Pepin ends up as chef to the Prime Minister of France.
Throughout the memoir are many wonderful descriptions of food and wine that can make the reader hungry.
The most surprising (and least interesting to me) parts of Pepin’s career happened after he came to America. Perhaps most startling to me was that fact that Pepin worked for years in the test kitchens at Howard Johnsons working with another French chef to improve the quality of the restaurant chain’s food. Apparently HoJo’s back in the day isn’t what we may think of it today. Still he did many other things cookbooks, consulting, teaching, TV, etc. Still quite interesting, I just found it less interesting than his earlier years in France.
If you like food writing you will probably like this one. I know I am going to try at least one of the recipes included. But, if you haven’t already, read Childs’ My Life in France or Ruth Reichl’s books instead.
I met Jacques earlier this year on the Oceanaire cruiseline (where he is executive chef) and he was just the nicest person you could ever imagine. He has a signature restaurant on board the ship and while he ordinarily is not on board obviously, for the inaugural launch he was there and was so intimately worried about our experience in his restaurant; an active host for sure. The food was, of course, incredible.
Discovered you love May Sarton and now my beloved M Pepin.
Child, Pepin, Reichl……holy trinity.
Garden & Be Well, XO Tara
I read this last summer while on vacation and loved it. However, I made the mistake of finishing it on an airplane. . . where I had nothing to eat but a dry airport sandwich. Note to self, never read food memoirs or books about France (which invariably include descriptions of food) without a supply of excellent snacks. Preferably wine and pate.
Love anything to do with food and I liked Julia Child's one very much!
This was added to my wishlist after Karen K.'s review last year. I loved both My Life in France and Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone. Hope to get to this one soon.
If you can find a copy, you might enjoy Great Chefs of France by Anthony Blake and Quentin Crewe (Galley Press, 1978), not for any great literary merit, but for the fascinating insights into the lives and work of topflight (mostly provincial) French chefs. Many charming illustrations also.