Jacques Pépin’s Daughter Never Wanted To Cook–Until She Started Working With Her Dad

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Saveur Jacques Pepin Father’s Day Courtesy of MEL provides this information.

Eddie Kim, MEL’s features writer, interviewed the father-daughter duo for this story.

Claudine Pépin had always insisted that she would never cook professionally in her life. As a student at Boston University, she had no intention of following in her father’s footsteps and instead pursued a degree in political science. But you can’t say no when the Jacques Pépin asks you to cook, as she did while traveling with her father from the East Coast to San Francisco.

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There is a food festival in Aspen, and he tells me we are going to be there.” In the hours leading up to his public demonstration, he looks at me expectantly and says, “You’re coming with me.” “I just said, ‘I’m going where?'” she asked. Claudine is quoted as saying. It will be fine, he tells me.'” His answer when I inquired about his lack of communication: “What good would it have done?”

Claudine didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the beginning of many collaborations to come. Throughout the 1990s, the pair would collaborate on three television shows, including Cooking With Claudine. They have aged beautifully, thanks to the chemistry between father and daughter; she is the perfect foil for Jacques, playing the everyman and raising fundamental questions.

“However, ever since we started working together, people have always said, ‘Oh, you know what you’re doing!'” There is no truth in it!'” She tells me this, laughing. “However, I wasn’t. For the first time in my life, I was truly learning everything.”

Since her father was Jacques Pépin, the most revered and mythical figure in food, it’s hard to believe she didn’t learn how to cook. Starting at the age of 13 and working his way up through some of France’s most prestigious restaurants to cook for French President Charles de Gaulle, Le Pavillon, and even Howard Johnson’s during the heyday of the casual dining era, he’s done it all.

In addition to La Technique, Jacques has written numerous influential books and has lectured all over the world. This pioneer in the food-television industry became well-known in the 1980s, when he combined brilliant skills with a laid-back style of storytelling and practical advice to achieve stardom. Pépin, like Julia Child, became a role model for those who aspired to learn more than just how to cook, but to truly enjoy the experience of eating and drinking.

Claudine’s upbringing by Jacques and Gloria Pépin, a culinary powerhouse in her own right, had a profound effect on her. It’s possible she didn’t fully grasp Pépin’s renown, or the fact that his friends were some of the most renowned chefs in the world. Although Claudine never wanted to work in the kitchen, she and her father developed a professional relationship that has shaped and strengthened their bond over the years.

As an expert in the wine industry, Claudine has lectured at the French Culinary Institute and has written several books. It was founded in 2016 and aims to help people who are struggling and disenfranchised from the workforce, and she is now the foundation’s president. However, she will always be linked to the legends of her ancestors, and she is building on the work of her late parents. Since graduating high school, Claudine’s own daughter claims she will not work in the food industry—but her grandfather has already gotten her on television and in a cookbook.

I recently spoke with Jacques, 86, and Claudine, 53, about their lifelong love of cooking, travel memories, and how the kitchen became a place where they could connect with one another.

At Aspen Food & Wine, I had my first taste of the world of fine dining. A spontaneous decision or a well-thought-out surprise for Claudine?

This may or may not have been part of the original plan, but I thought it was about time. It occurred to me, “Maybe I should bring someone along,” after I completed three series of Today’s Gourmet, each containing 26 episodes. In order to avoid the possibility of a rivalry between the two chefs, I decided not to bring a second chef with me. I wanted someone I care about by my side, to serve as the voice of the people. For me, it’s a dream come true to have a conversation like this with a normal person. Then Claudine was fantastic—she appeared natural and at ease in front of the camera.

I deliberately withheld the menu’s contents from her during our time together. People would say, “Well, she must have known that already.”” That’s not true! She may have eaten that over the course of her life, but she was never interested in the process of doing things.

When she was younger, she didn’t know what she wanted to do in life, but she never thought she would ever, ever do what I’m doing today.

Claudine: You got that right!

When you were a child, did you know how well-known your father was? Like the fact that JFK wanted him to be his personal chef, or the fact that he knew all the top chefs in the business.

It wasn’t until college that I became aware of the problem. At first, I didn’t give it much thought. When I was a kid, my family was close friends with Julia Child, so we would frequently visit her at her home. She didn’t seem all that interested in talking to me, to be honest. [Laughs] The chefs in our immediate vicinity, on the other hand, were all extremely well-known in their own right. The fact that my father wasn’t as well-known as Martin Yan made it difficult for me to see him as a notable figure. It’s not my father who’s famous if you go to Chinatown with Martin Yan, as we did.

When we were in San Francisco or something, one guy the size of a Mack truck ran straight at us as we were walking down the street. What I did know was that he wanted to hug my father and say, “Oh my God, I love your shows,” but I had no idea what was going to happen. As we walked down the street, we were approached by two strangers who simply wanted to tell us how much they loved my father. When that happened, I became more aware of what was going on in my life.

Jacques, when did you first realize that Claudine was a foodie, and how much she loved to eat, as a child?

“It was always like that,” says Jacques. We didn’t eat a la carte as a family; we sat down every day for at least an hour to eat dinner. Ever since she could walk, she’d been doing it like that. We never bought baby food for her, not even when she was tiny. I blended whatever we ate that night and made a puree out of it without adding too much salt or pepper. In other words, she liked it. As a child, she recognized the flavor because it was a fundamental part of her identity.

Your memoir has an amusing passage about a mother asking her daughter, “Why aren’t you eating your asparagus, Claudine?” when she is a young girl and visiting a friend’s house for dinner. As for her response, “I’m waiting for the Hollandaise!” is more like it.

It’s all right, Jacques. [Laughs] That’s hilarious.

Claudine: There is a woman I know who still calls me Mrs. Pratt, and she absolutely adores the story. She dialed my mother’s number. “What kind of insane child did you send me?” she asks.

Jacques: Claudine had no idea how well-versed she was in the arts of taste. Perhaps she had no interest in cooking, but she had always visited places like Lutéce in New York, led by André Soltner, throughout her childhood and teen years. A longtime acquaintance, he was referred to as “uncle” by my niece. From Le Cirque to whatever, there are many excellent restaurants. Since she was six years old, she had been going to France every year. The best restaurants and markets in the world opened their doors to her, so while she may not have learned the basics of cooking, she was exposed to many.

The first time I started cooking with my dad, I was apprehensive because I’d always avoided the nuts and bolts of the process.

Well, it was a good experience, to say the least. My decision not to ever work in a professional kitchen was strengthened by this experience. That’s a lot of effort. But I can recall a few occasions where we had to serve a large number of people at the same time. Once again, I found myself in the kitchen, and was astounded at how much I had picked up over the years simply by observing others.

Claudine may have never worked in the wine industry in a different universe, Jacques. I’ve never appeared on a television show with you. Who or what would you miss if you didn’t have them?

As a child, she taught me the virtue of patience. My working relationship with her has changed since 1989, when she was a complete novice and didn’t know anything. I don’t know if you recall, but in my book, I mention that I helped her get an apartment near Boston University when she first started at the university. Moreover, she invited me to dinner one night. That’s the one you read?

Yeah. The chicken she cooked was a hit.

The chicken wasn’t Claudine. I made a hen out of clay. Cooked up an old hen It was better because it was more expensive. Hen was more expensive than chicken at the supermarket I went to. As you can see, it looks just like the shoes you’re wearing right now. [Laughs]

Since she’s learned a lot about cooking and developed her own ideas, things have changed a lot. For now, she does things her own way rather than following my instructions.

Why did working with your father present you with difficulties, Claudine?

In my opinion, the most difficult part of being a professional is the fact that you’re never recognized as such. Because it’s a gathering of close friends and relatives. As a result, I am an expert in my field and am well-versed in everything I do, be it with the foundation or not. He has a hard time considering me anything but his daughter. As a result, I always feel the need to have another professional’s opinion backed up my own. That’s something I’m not used to. However, this is probably true for everyone who shares a workplace with members of their family.

If Jacques Pépin says this is how you make an omelet, I’ll consider the matter resolved, as does Tony Bourdain. My chef husband might have a different opinion. This is incorrect; my father always does it this way, and it’s always been done in this manner. It’s possible that both sides have blind spots.

He doesn’t know whether to agree with her that he doesn’t respect her opinion on a particular issue. That isn’t entirely accurate. I mean, you could have been six years old at the time. You can still express your displeasure with what I’m doing if you don’t like it.

It’s Claudine: [Stops] That’s a step in the right direction!

It’s never easy to work with family members, in my opinion. In spite of this, Claudine says: Since you were a child, you’ve seen your father perform at the highest level. Jacques: It’s been 50 years since you first met her and now you’re coworkers. What benefits have you both reaped from this relationship?

Since Claudine has taken over my entire existence, Jacques has no plans to leave her. So it’s a lot of fun to work together. Even though she’s grown up, I can still see the little girl I knew when she was four years old, and how far she’s come. Now that she has a child, we’re even closer than we were when [Claudine and I] were children. So it’s been very rewarding, and all of that is basically based on cooking and being together and sharing food.

When a kid comes back from school, the best place is in the kitchen. To hear your mother or your father’s voice, and the smell of the kitchen, and the taste of those dishes—it will stay with you the rest of your life. They are very visceral moments. Very powerful. So this is a culmination of what we’ve been doing our whole life. And we are happy to be able to do that together now. I mean, I am.

Claudine: And for me I think it’s 100 percent trust. Like one million percent. And for me, a father is the first man in your life—and unfortunately for every boyfriend I’ve had, he’s been the one by which all others shall be judged. I know he has my best interest at heart, of course. So it’s just trust. There’s nobody I trust more.

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