Jacques Pepin is an internationally recognized French chef, television personality, and author working in the United States. Since the late 1980s, he has appeared on French and American television and written an array of cookbooks that have become best sellers. He has received numerous international awards, including an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Boston University in 2011.
Pepin was born in 1935 in Bourg-en-Bresse, near Lyon in France and after World War II his parents owned the restaurant, Le Pélican, where he worked and developed his love for food. In 1956 to 1958, during his military service, Pepin was the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. In 1959 Pepin moved to the United States to work at the restaurant Le Pavillon. Soon after his arrival a noted food editor at the New York Times, introduced Pepin to Helen McCully, who took him under her wing who in turn introduced him to Julia Child which initiated their long friendship and collaboration. In 1999, Pepin co-starred in the PBS series Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home with Julia Child. The program was awarded a Daytime Emmy in 2001.
In 1961 Pepin was hired to work alongside fellow Frenchman Pierre Franey to develop food lines for his chain of Howard Johnson's restaurants. During that time Pepin was attending Columbia University. Pépin received his B.A. degree from Columbia University's School of General Studies in 1970 and his M.A. in French literature from the Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1972.
Pepin has starred in numerous television shows and authored numerous cook books. He launched a televised cooking show in an acclaimed 1997 PBS series, The Complete Pepin. Relaunched on PBS ten years after its initial run, the series included a new introduction by Pepin where he stressed that now more than ever the secret to being a successful chef and not a mere line cook lies in knowing and using the proper technique. In 2015, his television series Jacques Pepin Heart & Soul began airing.
Pepin serves as dean of Special Programs at The International Culinary Center, founded as the French Culinary Institute, in New York City. He is an active contributor to the Gastronomy department at Boston University, where he teaches an online class on the cuisine and culture of France at Boston University's history department. Pepin also writes a quarterly column for Food & Wine and offers an amateur class each semester based on varied culinary topics.
Pepin experienced a minor stroke in March 2015 at his Connecticut home, but was promptly treated at an area hospital and was expected to eventually make a full recovery.
Reality TV cooking shows like Top Chef, Chopped and Hell's Kitchen draw millions of fans, but Pepin isn't one of them. These competitions leave him distraught. According to Pepin, cooking is about being together, about love and sharing and the confrontation experienced on these programs is not how you learn to cook or how you understand food.
Alice Waters of the organic eatery Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California also complained that these shows are teaching the kind of fast food values of our country, when in fact cooking really is something that can be very meditative and cooking is not about one-upping others.
Pepin doesn't like Gordon Ramsey's Hell’s Kitchen because it humiliates hard working cooks and the program is anything but real. According to Pepin, a real, well-run professional kitchen has dignity and order.