Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy Cooking

One of our local PBS stations recently starting airing reruns of the charming series Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home.  I've always been a big fan of Jacques Pepin, and after watching a few episodes of the shows he filmed with Julia Child I finally bought and read his autobiography, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen.

Jacques Pepin was born December 18, 1935, in a small French town, second son of a cabinetmaker and his wife.  His mother was the backbone of the family - a small, energetic woman who kept everything together after her husband was drafted in World War II and later made the family's modest fortune by buying, rejuvenating, and selling a series of ramshackle restaurants.  Jacques learned his love of food and cooking from her, but at the age of 14 started an apprenticeship at a fine restaurant that was his first step toward becoming a chef and, eventually, a celebrity.

This book is a remarkable collection of the author's childhood memories, gritty stories of working in the kitchens of sometimes capricious and sadistic chefs while learning his trade, and modest accounts of his eventual success.   Family photos are included.  Recipes with special meaning to him are sprinkled throughout.  His tone is as engaging as I would have expected from his work in TV, but also astonishingly open and thoughtful.  This man doesn't just cook; he thinks, deeply and about many different things. 

This was a thoroughly satisfying read about how one becomes not just a chef, but a mature and delightful human being.  I recommend it even to those who don't like to cook.

"Well written, funny, sad, informative, and always enchanting." ~Anthony Bourdain, after reading The Apprentice

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