Jacques Pepin is one of America's best-known chefs. He is the author of 24 books, including a best-selling memoir, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. He has also hosted nine public television cooking series, the most recent of which is called More Fast Food My Way. Pepin was born in rural France and his first exposure to cooking was in his parents' restaurant, Le Pelican. He began his formal apprenticeship at the age of thirteen and went on to work in Paris as the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. He moved to the United States in 1959 and studied at Columbia University. Pepin is a former columnist for The New York Times and now writes a quarterly column for Food & Wine. He received France's highest civilian honor, the French Legion of Honor, in 2004. He lives in Madison, Connecticut.
Topic: Cooking for the Stars
When I was young and when I lived in France, and at some point between 1956 and 1959 I worked for the French President . . . actually under three French Presidents because under the fourth republic the government was changing at a quite rapid pace when I finished with General De Gaulle. At that point, however, I dealt with the lady of the house. In that case it was Madame De Gaulle, where I would set up the menu for the week. And there was a kind of security in the kitchen which may not be there anymore. By this I mean that there is so much fame with the chef now, that he goes into the dining room and get the kudos, and get all the criticism or whatever. So you have that whole part of cooking which did not exist then. We never went into the dining room. We were never accepted or asked to go there. It was a totally different type of world. So you had a certain security in the kitchen doing your thing the way you thought it would be without having to wonder too much, or worry about what they would say in the dining room or whatever. Certainly when I did head of state at that time like Eisenhower, and McMillan, or Tio, or Nehru, I would discuss with the protocol as well as with Madame De Gaulle, and often only with the protocol, the dinner of the head of state coming, whether it has to be long or short; whether one or two meat, the number of course, the number of wines. Certainly there is some limitations that you may have, you know, with religion or other type of taboo. I mean you’re not going to serve, you know, a pork chop to the king of Morocco or something like this. So I mean there are . . . I don’t think the protocol will tell you to be careful and to stay . . . Or maybe the President may have been invited already three times, and they plan the menu. So you don’t want to have like striped bass maybe three times in a row or whatever. So those types of limitations within this, you would try to show what you know how to do the best, and show the season. And certainly in the case of me when I was at the President’s, show your country as well, which is what you should do. If I were at the White House, that’s what I would do.
Recorded on: 09/04/2007