We all know him as a master French chef, sidekick to Julia Child in many cooking television programs, and a TV presenter for his own cooking programs. Among his many accomplishments, which include innumerable cookbooks and magazine articles, he is a prodigious artist. It is unlikely that the chicken has been portrayed, in one book, in such a vibrant, multifaceted and witty style. In this homage to the chicken and its versatility, Jacques Pépin has created a memoir with recipes, accompanied by his own paintings. Growing up in the French countryside, he learned many ways to cook a chicken from his maman, whose special techniques and recipes he shares with us.
In his autobiography, The apprentice: my life in the kitchen, Pépin wrote about his early years growing up in the French countryside; detailing his family’s life during and after World War II; his apprenticeship as a shy young lad learning the formal ways of French cooking within the very rigid hierarchical system of the French apprentice cooking system. The new memoir reveals more of that personal life and growth, but it is a way of paying homage to the chicken and the versatile ways that every part of the bird can be of use to the creative cook/chef. Having grown up in the countryside during tough economic times, it was from his maman that Pépin learned many of these ways to feed and sustain a family and run a country restaurant. Real country cooks, all over the world, out of necessity, have taught themselves not to waste parts of livestock and/or vegetation. For those who are squeamish, and I was one but who was also curious, there is a certain section which describes how to do the chicken in. You will have fair warning, so not to worry. That is what he had to learn, at the knee of his dear maman.
Working in the United States, at what was considered to be "the finest French restaurant in the United States, Le Pavillon, was much different than his experience working at the Plaza Athénée in Paris because the kitchen structure in the United States was less rigid. After working at this notable American restaurant, Pépin states that he made "what most people would have regarded a downright stupid career move." He turned down becoming White House chef for the John F. Kennedy administration. This is a fascinating story based on his having worked "the presidential route in France." Instead he wanted to learn something new and began work at HoJo's, aka Howard Johnson's. "The years I spent at Howard Johnson's changed my life as a cook."
Jacques Pépin states, "The unique characteristic of chicken is that it fits and is part of all levels of cooking in all parts of the world, from very rich to very poor. It is truly universal and essential in all cuisines--French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, African, Indian, Arab and many others ... on the plate of a three-star Michelin restaurant as well as in a diner, hospital cafeteria, small bistro, hotel menu, or food truck."
For 2022, this book was listed by LAPL staff as one of the best non-fiction books. It is available to check out, or to purchase at The Library Store.