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The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen Hardcover – April 10, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (April 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618197370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618197378
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jacques Pepin is the author of twenty-one cookbooks, including the best-selling The Apprentice and the award-winning Jacques Pepin Celebrates and Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (with Julia Child). He has appeared regularly on PBS programs for more than a decade, hosting over three hundred cooking shows. A contributing editor for Food & Wine, he is the dean of special programs at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Before coming to the United States, he served as personal chef to three French heads of state.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

118 of 120 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Bourdain on April 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I've been waiting for this book my whole life! I sat down with the book last evening, intending to read for a while, maybe return later. Could not put it down. A well written, funny, sad, informative and always enchanting account of an incredible career. Pepin's account of coming up through the his family's bistros, then the old school European hotel/restaurant system--and later New York's legendary Le Pavillon-- is fascinating first person memoir--and terrific history. I can't say enough good things about this book. It's right up there with Orwell, Freeling, Bemelmans--but better, richer, more passionately drawn. An instant classic.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 31, 2003
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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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By rodboomboom HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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 to DeGaulle to fame in America and TV star.
From his humble roots to his current fame which is spreading, this guy can cook and reflects significantly in his career of the changes in gourmet cooking.
The stories he provides are the highlight for me: the apprentice spook with the chicken boning machine, his incidents with learning the English language (e.g. the story of the word in French for shower when asked why his head was wet), the presentation of "sanitary napkins", his TV pilot shot with ingredients from the trash, etc. These all provide for just an absolutely magnficent read.
Recipes are provided for each segment of his career. Especially respectful of this chef who knows the finest of formal, rigid French classical cooking, but himself admitting that he likes American basic, comfort food and new style of combing old with new.
Refreshing read from a food Hall of Famer!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Leslie D. Ehrlich on January 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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