From chef, author, and cooking-show veteran Pépin (The Short-Cut Cook, 1990, etc.), an easygoing but proud memoir of his journey through the stations of the kitchen and the food world.
Pépin doesn't gloss over the difficulties involved in scaling the French culinary ladder, but there is never any question that it was exactly what he wanted to be doing. His mother ran a series of comfortable, small-scale, well-received restaurants outside Lyon, and young Jacques took to “the hurly-burly noise of the kitchen. The heat. The sweat. The bumping of bodies. The raised voices. The constant rush of adrenaline.” His apprenticeship, feudal in duration and circumstances, wasn't easy, but he reveled in the learning process of observation and imitation, a “visual osmosis” that he conveys in warm, willowy prose. Cooking in a restaurant, we realize, is a calling, not a job. Gradually introduced to a variety of French regional foods, Pépin learned thoroughly and from the ground up the responsibilities and techniques of each kitchen position. He landed a succession of jobs at great restaurants in Paris and as a private chef before moving to New York and immersing himself in the revolution overtaking American cooking. Hungry for work, he was also gratifyingly unpretentious; he took a job at Howard Johnson’s rather than the Kennedy White House because he liked his life in New York. At Ho Jo’s, he worked with chefs (many of them blacks from the American South) who lacked formal training but had “natural grace and gut-felt understanding.” After a horrific car accident shattered too many bones to count and forced him to leave the kitchen, he turned to writing, teaching, and fostering the growing American awareness of good food. Pépin offers a worm's-eye view of culinary personalities and approaches, and there’s no doubt he has earned every ounce of bounty he has received from the kitchen
Prose as joyful and rich as the author’s food. (Photos, not seen)