Thursday, March 3, 2011

Before The Donald

Jacques Pepin was the Apprentice.

A kitchen apprentice. I remarked to the DH that success is usually based on two things: hard work and good fortune. Or, you can call it being in the right place at the right time, or knowing the right people. Or, jus' no be sked (just don't be shy/scared - ask for help!) He worked hard in his mother's kitchens until the age of 13, when he asked to leave school early to start an (unpaid) apprenticeship.

Why do I read books? To learn and vicariously experience other times and cultures I can't otherwise. If I hadn't read this book I wouldn't have learned about the immense wood and coal burning stoves in French restaurant kitchens.
These had to be well-stoked, not too early or late to cook lunch, then re-stoked for dinner. This was the apprentice's first task. And the ovens in these stoves were like long tunnels with heat that reached up to 600 degrees(!) The only way to regulate the temps were to stack up trays and leave the oven door open. What a skill to know from experience what would work! How hot it must have been!

His hard work gets him promoted to different levels when he gets to Paris (his guts got him there), but luck gets him into the kitchen of the French prime minister, eventually Charles de Gaulle.

Guts take him to America, but fortune into working at one of the best French restaurants in NYC, Le Pavillon. And luck eventually gets him a job with Howard Johnson's. Why call this lucky? His French restaurant career didn't last (management!), neither did the restaurant and he got to know Johnson, as he was a customer of Le Pavillon.

His luck runs out later, but he overcomes that. For that, you will have to read the book, or ask me via comment or email!

I suspected, but wasn't certain of his humble beginnings. Why? In his public appearances, TV programs and writing, there is a respectful restraint and gentlemanly demeanor, tempered by a rough directness.

And hard work is needed to complete his education - he earns a college degree while working. I knew he could cook, I know he's written cookbooks, but I didn't know he could write a good story.

Jacques Pepin's memoir was published in 2003, which is the problem. I see that he is still filming cooking programs and teaching. He still has stories to tell. And his writing is well worth reading! Bonne lecture!

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