Bill Keefe's Reviews > The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen

The Apprentice by Jacques Pépin
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Oct 24, 12

Read from October 13 to 22, 2010

"How can you not like Jacques Pepin?" would be an admirable alternative title for this warm, personal story about a life well lived and a career in a field that fascinates many of us - (especially me!). Mr. Pepin mixes stories of cooking with glimpses into the lives of the rich, the famous and the accomplished people he meets and befriends as he plies his career these many years. He takes us mushroom hunting, cuts up rabbits, stokes oven fires, enthusiastically clears a California beach of snails that had been ignored for centuries by the local populace.

Nothing gets too out of hand in this book - no real ax is ground, no debts repaid. Instead, Jacques Pepin writes a book filled with gratitude for his opportunities, confidence in his core skills and appreciation for those who have helped him, and those whose work he admires. It's not fluff, mind you. It's just that it centers on food, not on food fights.

And that is the true joy of this book. Jacques Pepin is not kitchen help; not even outstanding kitchen help. He knows and appreciates the food chain, the source of food, quality, freshness. In this book, he fishes, grows vegetables, buys live animals for meat, saves scraps for stock and he takes you with him as he does these things. Through the course of the book I came to admire, no envy, his matter of fact appreciation of our food, from source to the table.

Don't get me wrong; this isn't great literature. The writing is a bit clunky, vignettes halt suddenly and you move on and big problems are pared quickly with a sharp pen. But you get a life in food and a good one, at that. And, until the "True Story of Jacques 'the skank' Pepin" is released, you get the assurance that that admiration you you've developed while watching the chef on television or reading his cookbooks, is well deserved.

It was a joy to read the story of an individual so cognizant of the concept of place.
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Quotes Bill Liked

Jacques Pépin
“Fortunately, I knew the cardinal rule of getting on with one’s fellow cooks. It applies in any kitchen and can be summed up in two short words: bust ass. Restaurant kitchens are the ultimate levelers. When you’re slammed and orders are starting to back up, you could care less about the color of the hands of the cook who is working next to you, as long as they are moving fast and effectively. Personal life, sexual preferences, accent, addictions, criminal record—none of them matter. Conversely, if he isn’t holding up his end, he could be your blood brother and you’d fire him in a second. That I had been chef at the “French White House” didn’t mean anything to these HoJo line chefs.”
Jacques Pépin, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen


Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Keefe There is a very interesting (and verrrry small) little movement right now towards radical localism, as I'd call it. My friend Mara, for example, lives in Bellingham right now, where she has opportunities to learn, but plans to bring her learning home in the end. Home is still, and will always be northern Idaho, where her family lives, and has lived. This idea is more interesting to me than all of the mushroom-hunting, sea-vegetable-harvesting, winter-greens-growing localism that I spend so much of my time puttering around with.


Bill Keefe Chris wrote: "There is a very interesting (and verrrry small) little movement right now towards radical localism, as I'd call it. My friend Mara, for example, lives in Bellingham right now, where she has opport..."

I don't understand. What does this mean, "radical localism?" It sounds like your friend simply wants to go home and take her learnings with her. That's cool but doesn't sound radical at all.

As you know, I'm not into radical anything a great deal. Must be the Aristotelian in me. I love eating a locally grown heirloom tomatoes but if i can extend the season a couple of months and support farmers in Virginia and Georgia, I'm cool with that. And I would purchase Florida orange juice wherever I am in the U.S., so long as I have the luxury.

Thanks for commenting!! I don't get many, so when I get them I get all excited!


message 3: by Chris (new)

Chris Keefe Bill wrote: "Chris wrote: "There is a very interesting (and verrrry small) little movement right now towards radical localism, as I'd call it. My friend Mara, for example, lives in Bellingham right now, where ..."

Mara's perspective is radical in that she plans on going home and staying there. Travel is limited to the distance one can ride a bicycle, and, unlike you, she will drink cider year round instead of orange juice. In an age where being more than one place at once is almost the norm, Mara's goal is to steep herself in an understanding of her home and the sense of place that is its own. I don't know that it's for me, but she's definitely moving towards a particularly hardy brand of independent living that seems to be strangely appropriate to the american west we read about.


Bill Keefe Hmmm, well it still doesn't sound extremely radical but I do find the idea of focusing on home and a center very appealing, and quite different from the fractured life I have crafted for myself over the past 10+ years.


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