Jacques Pépin (born December 18, 1935) is an internationally recognized French chef, television personality, and author working in the United States. At the end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s, he appeared on French and American T.V. and wrote an array of cookbooks that became best sellers.
Chef Jacques Pepin — or, as Julia Child called him, "the best chef in America" — has spent more than six decades in the kitchen savoring food.
At 13, Pepin received a dispensation to take an exam to leave school early so that he could begin a formal apprenticeship in a restaurant. While the job was tough for a child that age, Pepin did not see it as such.
"Prior to this, remember that I left home to go into apprenticeship, but home was actually a restaurant. So already, I was used to peeling potatoes and peeling string beans and washing dishes and working in the kitchen with my mother as well as my two brothers ... so it wasn't such a big change," he says.
“I have an immigrant story,” he said. “Most people come here for economic reasons, or religious reasons, or racial reasons, or gender reasons, or one of those things. I had a good job in Paris, but America was, and still is, the golden fleece.” He raised his Champagne flute. “And I’ve done very well!”
As it happens Pépin, now 76, still lives in Connecticut, still oversees a great deal at the French Culinary Institute and still churns out cookbooks, most recently “Essential Pépin,” published last year. What he does not often do is lend his celebrated cuisine to charity events.
He is a founder of the American Institute of Wine and Food and a member of the International Association of Cooking Professionals. In 2004, he was awarded France’s highest civilian
honor, the French Legion of Honor.
Pépin's comfort foods are quintessentially simple: bread and butter, mashed potatoes, soup. Soup has a special place in Pépin's psyche: He opened a French soup restaurant, La Potagerie, in New York in the 1970s.
Pepin never intended to stay in the U.S. He'd worked for the president of France. He'd cooked in the best restaurants in Paris. But when he arrived in New York in 1959, he fell in love with America and its open-mindedness about food, culture and social class.
One of the best known culinary teachers in the world, he's earned a place in the James Beard Foundation's Cookbook Hall of Fame, captured the foundation's Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America, been recognized for Best TV Cooking Segment and Best Culinary Video, and earned the foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.
He studied at Columbia University during this period, ultimately earning an M.A. degree in 18th-century French literature in 1972. In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the School of General Studies at Columbia, Pépin was honored with four other distinguished alumni of the School, each representing a different decade in its history.
A former columnist for The New York Times, Pépin writes a quarterly column for Food & Wine. He also participates regularly in that magazine’s prestigious Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and at other culinary festivals and fund-raising events worldwide.