Monday, June 15, 2015

The Apprentice - Jacques Pépin

The Apprentice
Title: The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen
Author: Jacques Pépin
Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 352
Genre: Food / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I love food memoirs!
Date Completed: 4/26/15

Summary: One of the very early incarnations of the celebrity chef, Jacques Pépin offers his life story in this far reaching memoir. He covers everything from his childhood in France, his apprenticeships in rigid French kitchens, his immigration to America, and his years at the top of the culinary scene.

What I Thought: I have heard from many sources that Pépin's memoir is an important, memorable part of the food memoir canon. It is on every list of must read foodie books. Thus, I was harboring high expectations when I placed it On Reserve and, consequentially, finally picked it up this spring.

I want to be clear up front - I liked this book. I simply devoured (pun intended) the early chapters about Pépin's years in France, both his memoires as a boy sent to the countryside during WWII and his early apprenticeships in classic, rigid French restaurant kitchens. I had neer really read about that environment beforel the strict heirarchy, recipes, and rules fascinated me.

Once Pépin moved to the States mid-century, however, I was not gripped on the same level. He worked for Howard Johnson for many years, mass producing recipes for the restaurant chain's many locations. Perhaps this is really the time when Pépin lost some of my interest. The cozy atmosphere of home cooking or even the militant rigidity of restaurant kitchens captivated me while the corporate, career environment of Pépin's State-side career paled in my eyes. While I have no doubt the experience was captivating, challenging, and a space for a creativity for Pépin, I felt plunged into an American consumerist attitude toward food which I tend to avoid when I can. I know his work at Howard Johnson was ground-breaking at the time. Still, I could not help but blame his skillful work a bit for the over abundance of homogenous American chains today. Support local restuarants!

Pépin won me back a bit in talking about his friendships and partnerships with rock star chefs such as James Beard and Julia Child. It was an incredibly important era in American and international cuisine and Pépin was right in the thick of things, contributing heavily. His stories feel like a glimpse behind the curtain. 

Pépin's devotion to his craft is evident. I simply wish he would have written more about his early years on the French culinary scene. Though it may not be what he is primarily known for, it shaped him and prepared fim for the illustrious career ahead. The memoir is good and worth a read for fans of the genre. For me, however, Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter remains in a class of its own and the best food memoir I have ever read. 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yeah, possibly

A Reduced Review: While I had my hopes up for the best food memoir of all time, The Apprentice still delivers a solid, interesting look into kitchens of all types over the last few decades.

I'm proud to remind you that this book is on my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list.  I'm so excited I joined this challenge for the first time. I am enjoying having some structure to my TBR and the change to make intentional choices about what I read next. Make sure you check out the rest of my list and follow the challenge throughout the year. 

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