Jacques Pepin in Cincinnati — May 27, 2004

Jacques Pepin discussed THE APPRENTICE: MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati on May 27, 2004.

I arrived about 30 minutes early and was able to get a seat in the front row. I spent the time before the event talking with a charming 73-years-young lady and her adult daughter about cooking, fresh produce, cookbooks, and Alton Brown (she’d never heard of him, but after looking at my just-purchased copy of GEAR FOR YOUR KITCHEN, she was headed back to get I’M JUST HERE FOR THE FOOD).

Promptly at 7:00, Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel, chef at an excellent local restaurant stepped to the podium. Jean-Robert (“JR”) recounted an experience from “when [he] was a shy younger chef” when Jacques Pepin came into the restaurant where JR was working, and JR was too nervous to go out to meet him. JR introduced Chef Pepin (in the course of the discussion, Chef Pepin revealed that he would dine this evening at JR’s restaurant).

After the introduction, Chef Pepin took the podium. For about 45 minutes, he discussed his history, the new book, and his current activities. Then he accepted questions from the audience, some of which I recall and will recount here.

* He was asked if he still cooks, and he replied that he cooks “all the time” and that they rely on having a kitchen whenever they go on vacation.

* He said that he’s building a “really big kitchen” (with room for cameras) in their guest house because, his wife will divorce him if he lets another camera in the house, he said jokingly!

* He’s got another book/show coming soon.

* I asked him about the “culinary scene” in America, and he indicated that he was very pleased with how it has progressed and was grateful because the growth allowed him to make a living. He observed that America’s culinary scene had grown more than the ‘scene’ in France (but quickly added, to no one’s surprise, that America still had a “lot of growing to do” before it was close to France!)

* He was asked about the emergence of ‘celebrity chefs’ and replied that he thought it was interesting that chefs have become famous. He said that parents never wanted their children to be chefs (“be a doctor or a lawyer instead”), but now things have changed a bit. He cautioned that anyone seeking to become a chef to get famous still has to work 12-14 hour days, “sweat a lot”, and work very, very hard.

* Folks asked about Julia, and Chef Pepin said that he speaks with her about once a week. They wanted to include some time with Julia in one of Chef’s upcoming shows, but her health did not permit it. When Chef spoke with her a week ago, she was again feeling fine. He indicated that her health is “rebounding” between healthy and not-so-healthy. She’s celebrating 92 years soon…

* He answered a question about the use of snooty ingredients (foie gras, truffles, etc), and said that in his shows/books, he uses ingredients that can be obtained at the supermarket, because what’s the point of teaching using ingredients that no one can get?

There were more questions, but those are the ones I remember. Chef Pepin was really open and accessible. When I stepped up to get my book signed, he asked me if I was “in the business”, (which made me feel great — as if my time in Culinary School has somehow put the mark on me (and not just my scars!) that other chefs recognize as a kindred spirit (I admit to, perhaps, reading too much into his question!)). When I told him that I am a Culinary student, he wished me luck, signed both my books with wishes for my career, and shook my hand.

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Chef Pepin with Jean-Robert de Cavel
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