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The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen [Paperback]

Jacques Pépin
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 7 2004
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<en>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 approximately 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.

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The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen + Letters to a Young Chef
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Product Description

From Amazon

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In this fast-moving and often touching memoir, Pepin recounts his journey from the kitchen of his mother's humble restaurant in rural France after World War II to his current position as author of 21 cookbooks, star of 13 PBS cooking shows and dean of special programs at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Along the way he describes everything from the tough French apprenticeship system that saw him dropping out of school at 13 to work in Lyon to the beginnings of the Howard Johnson's chain. Pepin accepted a job in the Howard Johnson's test kitchen over a stint at the White House cooking for John F. Kennedy , but shows no signs of regret. In fact, if there's a flaw here, it's that Pepin's eternally upbeat attitude is sometimes a little hard to buy-although he does seem to have been born under a lucky star. Pepin came to the U.S. just when a culinary culture was building and fell into friendships with Craig Claiborne, then food editor of the New York Times, and Julia Child. Even a bad car accident when he was 39 turned out to be a godsend, as it got him out of the restaurant kitchen and into the teaching profession. Pepin mines a lot of humor from the differences between French and American attitudes toward food, as when he recounts how he and a French friend once stopped by a farmsomewhere in the U.S. with a sign reading "Ducks for Sale" and wrung the neck of the duck they'd just bought in front of the horrified proprietress. Each chapter concludes with one or two recipes, many of them surprisingly earthy, such as Oatmeal Breakfast Soup with leeks and bacon.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming history of Jacques' life as a chef Jan. 1 2004
Format:Hardcover
Not being a devotee of the Food Channel, I discovered Jacques Pepin by accident. Channel surfing one day, I stumbled upon Jacques' transforming a big slab of meat into a beautiful roast, trimmed and tied. The sureness with which he handled his knives, his knowledge of the animal's anatomy, and the warm confidence with which he shared his knowledge -- "of course you can do this at home!" -- hooked me immediately.
"The Apprentice" tells the story of how he acquired this deep knowledge, and does it with style and charm. The story opens in war-time France, where Jacques and his brothers were sent to farms in the remote countryside during the summers for their safety... and in the hopes of avoiding food shortages prevalent in urban areas. From his earliest days, Jacques shadowed the women in his life as they cooked for their families, from the farmers' wives to his mother, an accomplished cook in her own right.
After the war, his mother parlayed her cooking skills and entrepreneurial spirit into a succession of increasingly successful restaurants, with Jacques and his three brothers helping out before and after school. From an early age, Jacques knew he wanted to be a chef. He left school at 13 and began an apprenticeship at a nearby hotel. For the next few years he moved from job to job, city to city, working 16 hours a day to lay down the foundation of skills -- stocks! aspics! forcemeats! -- that are the hallmark of the classically trained french chef.
His career as a chef hit a peak a few years later, when in his early 20's he found himself cooking for french Presidents, including a memorable stint for De Gaulle. He then came to America, and embarked on what must have been a very unorthodox career.
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Format:Hardcover
I have always had the greatest respect for Jacques Pepin based on the high reputation of his culinary books, collaborations with Julia Child, and great good humor and skills displayed on various television appearances, but I have always wondered how he reached a position of high respect within his profession without a connection to a major restaurant for at least as long as I have known of him (the last 15 years). This book answers my question and a whole lot more, confirming my impression of Jacques as a major figure in culinary America and a great gentleman as well.
Without giving away too much of the book's story, I must point out that Jacques was, by some great good fortune, the chef to France's President Charles DeGaulle at a very young age. In fact, he appeared on the TV show 'To Tell The Truth' and the panelists did not pick him as DeGaulle's chef because he was so very young. Upon coming to the United States, he quickly attained a position as a line chef under Pierre Franey at the great Le Pavillion, following Franey to a position in the test and development kitchens at Howard Johnson's. For those of you post baby boomers, I can assure you from first hand experience that at one time, Howard Johnson's was often considered a very desirable place to eat out.
Jacques would probably now be the owner / executive chef at a major restaurant but for a very serious automobile accident which broke most major bones and which left Jacques with only a slim chance to even be able to walk. Miraculously, he mended well to the point where he returned to an almost normal life, but without the ability to sustain the 12 to 14 hours on his feet at a typical chef's station. This lead to his career as a teacher, followed by cookbook writing and TV cooking series a la Julia on PBS.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Better than hot chocolate.... Oct. 5 2003
Format:Hardcover
Jacques Pepin is very unassuming. This comes through in his recipes and his autobiography "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen." For anyone interested in cooking and learning more about those creative souls who bring new ideas to the 'family' kitchen, this is a great -- and very lite -- read. Jacques Pepin may very well represent a unique combination: a 'celebrity chef' who is above all well trained and truly dedicated to food ingredients in their most essential form: as elements of a creative process which at it's most essential is also most satisfying. Pepin's account of his life's journey combines bemusement -- in regard to his success -- and a certain amount of marvel at his naivete in regard to what it takes to be successful -- from when he left home, to when he journeyed to America, to his first (unsuccessful) forays into television. At the end of it all, you can't help both laughing and liking the guy. Unlike the recently published biography of Julia Child, "The Apprentice" is a warm and satisfying read... kind of like a good cup of hot chocolate.....
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3.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant read from a consomme professional Sept. 13 2003
Format:Hardcover
Jacques P?pin isn't like the rest of us. When he encounters some thousands of snails slime-trailing their way around the wet terraces of his vacation bungalow, P?pin doesn't just register their appearance as a curiosity and move on, as we might. He thinks "Dinner!" and runs around excitedly collecting the creatures in a wastepaper basket. When a friend complains that his boat's outboard motor regularly hits something hard in a particular shallow channel, P?pin investigates and once again finds a free lunch--the obstruction is a shoal of mussels from which he happily gathers a feast.
These stories hint at the most striking revelation of P?pin's autobiography, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen: the man is obsessed with food. This ought not come as a surprise, I suppose. P?pin is, after all, a renowned professional chef. But not every professional is so taken with the subject of his expertise. Love of food and its preparation--foraging or fishing for it, prying it from the walls of a vacation resort, simmering it on his own stovetop or stirring up consomm?s in thousand-gallon vats--pervades P?pin's life.
In straightforward, readable prose, The Apprentice tells the story of P?pin's life in food, from his childhood in war-rationed France--where his father, a member of the Resistance, smuggled the occasional banana to his wife and sons; to his apprenticeship in the kitchens of his mother's restaurants and under a series of respected French chefs; to his increasingly successful career in America. Throughout, one marvels at the author's apparently flawless memory for cooking. Remarkably, P?pin describes in detail dishes he made decades earlier, their ingredients and preparation, how the meal was received. These sections of the book do not make for the most scintillating reading for those of us who are not food aficionados, but they are impressive even so. For those who *are* inclined to take to the stove, P?pin includes more than twenty recipes in the book.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
Cute, informative, quick read, excellent stories, very insightful. Have read it twice. I am sure many European people who lived through the war years can call this story their own... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Stanley Heal
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily the Best Memoir I've Read this Year
The skills that make an awesome chef are the same skills that make an awesome writer, patience, a loving devotion to detail, an appreciation of the sensual - this has it all. Read more
Published on May 6 2004 by ShawnaLanne
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Reading
I enjoyed every minute of this delectable memoir. Amusing and thoughtful; Pepin shares an intimate look from WWII France and as an ex-pat in America. I hated to see the book end.
Published on April 23 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book by a great cook
Julia Child (who should know!) has called him the best cook in America today. That's high praise.
Jacques Pepin's life in kitchens, beginning with his mother's cafes and... Read more
Published on March 12 2004 by R. Tiedemann
5.0 out of 5 stars Creme de la creme -
I thought I would like this book, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I came away liking the author. M. Read more
Published on Nov. 14 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Another culinary autobiography, but from the best
Withy a great history of formal French training, Pepin has earned the right to toss out a cheesey 'my life in the kitchen'. His story though is much more exciting than that. Read more
Published on Oct. 8 2003 by Jason Gruss
2.0 out of 5 stars Where's the beef!?
It was an enjoyable lite read. The recipes after each chapter were interesting.

But, it is written on a sixth-grade level, so it's not something I'll reread. Read more
Published on Aug. 9 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, Entertainging Read from Gourmet All-Star
I enjoyed this read tremendously, and if you're into food, so will you.
Pepin writes very unassumedly, and is most humble about his very productive career, from personal chef... Read more
Published on July 21 2003 by rodboomboom
4.0 out of 5 stars Prose as yummy as Pepin's potage
A terrific memoir by charming, personable Jacques Pepin. It reads as fast as a proper saute, progressing from his pottering around his mother's humble cafe in the 40s, thru the... Read more
Published on June 3 2003 by Peggy Vincent
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