When Jacques Pépin first arrived in Manhattan from his native France in 1959, the 24-year-old was already well on his way to becoming a culinary icon, having worked as the personal chef for three French heads of state, including President Charles de Gaulle.
That he decided, in 1960, to turn down an offer to cook for another President — the newly elected John F. Kennedy — might seem ludicrous. But Pépin’s career flourished nevertheless. After working as director of research and development for the hotel-restaurant chain Howard Johnson, he published his first book, La Technique, in 1976. The illustrated guide to French cooking, which includes dozens of step-by-step photo instructions, remains a masterpiece on Parisian cuisine and helped land its author the first of seven cooking shows on PBS. His shows included Jacques Pépin’s Kitchen: Encore with Claudine, featuring his daughter, and Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home starring another legend of the field, Julia Child, who first met Pépin during his early years in New York and once praised him as “the best chef in America.” “He is remarkable,” Child told the Los Angeles Times in 1996 of his legendary technique. “He does everything so well you forget how difficult it is.”
Next Jeff Smith