Full EpisodeJacques Pépin: The Art of Craft

It’s an only-in-America story: A roguish young immigrant with movie-star looks, a charming Gallic accent, a populist sense of anything’s-possible optimism, and an ability to raise humble kitchen techniques to a breathtaking art form becomes one of the nation’s most beloved and revered food icons.

Jacques Pépin’s story—which encompasses his contributions to the profession of cooking, food television and the very way we eat today—is a tale even his legions of devoted fans may not be familiar with. Today he is known as a kitchen supernova, a working whirlwind of creative energy even at 80 years old, who crisscrosses the country teaching, cooking, speaking, consulting and enjoying the celebrity generated by 13 successful television cooking series, nearly 30 cookbooks, and accolades ranging from a national Emmy Award (for his series co-hosted with Julia Child) to the French Legion of Honor. But in telling his own story in this documentary profile, he acknowledges that the very notion of being a “celebrity chef” was not only unplanned—it was virtually unthinkable in the profession and world in which he grew up.

The film traces Jacques’s surprising journey beginning in the countryside of wartime France, where his family’s tradition of entrepreneurial women running homegrown restaurants pushed young Jacques into an early culinary career. Leaving home at age 13 to begin a formal apprenticeship, he skyrocketed to the pinnacles of Paris’ great post-war restaurants. By age 21 he was the country’s “first chef,” running the private kitchens for three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. But in an era when even palace chefs were simply “the help,” Jacques yearned for new horizons, and set off for an uncharted life in New York. Within three days he had landed a job at Le Pavillon, the most influential French restaurant in the country, and was soon courted to become the first chef for the new Kennedy White House. In a decision that reveals much about his instinctive humility and unbridled curiosity, he opted instead to improve the food at America’s massive roadside restaurant chain, Howard Johnson’s, where, for 10 years, he mastered an understanding of mass production and American food tastes.

A crippling car accident in 1974 was the turning point that took Jacques from behind the stove toward a new career as a writer, teacher and ultimately a media star. The film brings to life the creation of Jacques’s landmark La Technique, the first American cookbook to focus not on recipes or menus but on the fundamental building blocks of kitchen techniques. The work became a bible for a generation of chefs, both professional and at home, who were beginning to catch up to a world of great food traditions and make them uniquely American. At the forefront was Jacques, who channeled his passion for teaching, his magnetic charm and his uncanny skill with two hands and a knife into a television career that has always emphasized, in the words of his catchphrase, “happy cooking”: honesty of ingredients, simplicity of approach, and a joy for sharing good food with loved ones.

Jacques’ story and personality are brought vividly to life in the film not only in his own recollections, delivered directly to the camera, but also in a trove of unique archival imagery and film, and through the heartfelt testimony of his colleagues and family (including wife Gloria and daughter Claudine, his frequent on-camera collaborator), along with a who’s-who culinary stars and media personalities including José Andrés, Anthony Bourdain, Tom Colicchio, Dana Cowin, Rachael Ray, Marcus Samuelsson and Fareed Zakaria.

American Masters: Jacques Pépin – The Art of Craft is produced and directed by Peter L. Stein. Executive producer Michael Isip. Narrated by Stanley Tucci. Co-executive producer Susie Heller. A KQED production in association with THIRTEEN’s American Masters for WNET.


Major funding for Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft is provided by Feast it Forward.

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Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Vital Projects Fund, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers.

Transcript Print

♪♪ Bourdain: I believe that before you were allowed to -- be-before you have sex with another human being, you should be capable of preparing them an omelette to Jacques Pépin's standards the next morning.

Wouldn't the world be a better place?

A kinder place?

♪♪ Jacques: Bang the omelette so that it's really to the edge, then you can invert it.

Tucci: He came to America at a time when chefs were the help, and helped bring about a revolution in American food.

[Cheering and applause] Ray: Jacques Pépin!

Jacques: If you hit it there, it will separate those cloves.

Now you can flip it.

Zakaria: Jacques Pépin really was the first person to land on the American scene and say technique matters, craft matters.

You have to learn how to actually do something and do it well.

Bourdain: He was there at the birth of food television as we know it.

Samuelsson: It was not the coolest thing, to be a chef, and he made it the profession it is today in this country.

Tucci: His path was uncharted and surprising: a prodigy who cooked for presidents and kings and left it all behind.

Ray: It was more important to him that he be part of a wider scope, a broader story.

Tucci: An immigrant who reinvented himself and his profession by writing its bible.

Meyer: He plays a major pivotal role in the whole arc of why Americans love to cook, love to go to restaurants, love to watch food on TV.

Tucci: This is the story of the unlikely American icon with the French drawl, who, with two hands, helped shape a world of food.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Jacques: There is a Chinese philosophy who say -- I'm paraphrasing -- that patriotism is the taste of the dishes of our youth.

There is a great deal of truth there.

Those tastes transcend the physiological function of food.

Those tastes become love.

Those things mean home.

It means security.

It means family.

I remember that summer during the Second World War when I was six years old.

It was a hard time because we really didn't have much to eat.

My mother took me to a farm to stay the summer.

She knew that they had food to eat, and after my mother left, I was pretty sad.

I was a little kid.

But then the farmer's wife took me by the hand and took me to the barn.

♪♪ And she said, 'Hey, petit,' you know, 'little guy, drink that,' so, I drank that, and it was good.

That maybe changed my life forever and determined my career.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Tucci: For young Jacques Pépin, growing up in Central France, the warm memories of food were inseparable from the harsh memories of World War II.

Jacques's father, Jean-Victor, a fine-woodworker by trade, had left to join the Resistance, only rarely sneaking back into town for quick visits.

Jacques's mother, Jeannette, worked as a waitress to feed her three young boys.

Their house was bombed three times, by three different armies.

[ Melancholy tune plays ] Peace came when Jacques was nine, reuniting the family in their hometown, not far from Lyon, France's gastronomic capital.

[ Birds chirping ] Boulud: What made that region special was the richness of the land, the richness of the wine countries.

And chicken is a religion. [laughs] The entire region, including Lyon, eat the poulet a la crème on Sunday.

And so that region became a hub for people to have a nice meal, spend the night.

And in Lyon, a lot womens also were cooking.

[ Birds tweeting ] Jacques: I can count seven restaurants in my family, and seven of them owned by woman.

My mother decided to do a restaurant when I was maybe five, six years old.

We were involved in it, of course.

The peeling of the vegetables, the drawing of the wine from the cellar.

It was the job of the kid.

I mean, I never remember coming back from school and telling my mother, 'I'm bored.'

[laughs] You're bored?

Are you kidding?

♪♪ In the morning, we went to Lyon, and there was a big market there and it's about a mile long.

It was, 'Ah, Madame Pépin, bonjour, bonjour.' They all knew her.

She would walk the whole market and buy on her way back.

On the way back, she knew that that case of mushroom was getting dark, that those tomatoes were really soft, so she bargained to get it for half-price.

And that's probably why I am such a miserly cook in the kitchen, you know? [chuckle] I learned never to throw anything out.

You know, that was against my religion inside.

Claudine: My grandmother used to flip restaurants.

She would go find a restaurant that was doing okay.

She'd make it great, and then she'd sell it, and then on to the next one.

Hardest-working woman you could ever meet, and really kind, but no-nonsense.

She wasn't like 'Oh,' you know?

She was like 'I love you.

That's great. We have to get to work now.'

And that's very much my father. He's like, 'Of course I love you. Okay, let's get to work.'

[ Whimsical tune plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪ Jacques: Any business which involves manual dexterity, you need to learn your trade; you need to learn your technique.

So whether you're a shoemaker or a sculptor, certainly a surgeon, you need to know the you know, the trick of the trade.

Just like in the kitchen, if you do this, then you have that know-how in your hand.

[ Whimsical tune continues ] My father was a cabinet maker, so he -- I think he was a good artist.

He had a very good eye.

And his father was a cabinet maker and his brother was a cabinet maker, my uncle, so the whole family, to a certain extent.

For me, the choice was easy.

It was either the kitchen or cabinet maker.

I was more excited by the kitchen.

The smell. The art of cooking.

So I left school when I was 13 and went into an apprenticeship about 40 miles from Lyon.

♪♪ Bourdain: They were kids who slept under the stairwells and were used as copper polishers and cleaners, scrubbers, dishwashers, brow wipers.

This would be, I think, illegal now.

I mean, it's called child labor.

But that was very much the system back then.

You hazed and brutalized and demeaned, and yet also mentored.

Jacques: The chefs, they do that, and you say, 'Yes,' and you do it.

If you would say, 'Why?' -- [laughing] you would never dare to say 'Why?', anyway -- but if you had said, 'Why?', he would have said, 'Because I just told you.'

And to a certain extent, it's fine.

When you're 13 years old, that's how you learn, by osmosis.

Bourdain: I know cooks who worked at a Michelin Star restaurant for They were only allowed to cook for the chef's dog.

And then, one day, suddenly, it's 'Pépin, you're on.'

It's what you yearn for and work for.

Tucci: For Jacques, that moment came when he was just 16, cooking a banquet for a firemen's ball.

Jacques: I was the chef in the kitchen for the first time.

The newspaper came.

They took a picture of me.

First time I was in the local paper.

Big picture of me with my fish.

I was very proud of myself.

I started to realize that I could put some of myself in that food.

It didn't have to be exactly the way my mother want it to be, [laughing] you know?

[ Whistle blows ] My dream was really to go to Paris.

You have not completed a real apprenticeship in France before you go to Paris.

Tucci: Jacques was barely 17, but he packed a suitcase, told his mother he had a job lined up -- he didn't -- and moved, by himself, to the capital.

[ Jazz plays ] Jacques: Paris, well, of course, overwhelming, but very exciting.

I ended up right away working from one place to another.

I probably worked at over 100 restaurants in Paris, from one restaurant to another restaurant, to another restaurant, learning that old background of classical cooking.

But then I went to the Plaza Athénée, which was probably the biggest brigade, or like in the Army.

We were 48 chefs in the kitchen.

The executive chef is called Monsieur.

He's on top.

The chefs there all worked with Escoffier, of course, and all the great French chefs, so I knew that there was a lot to learn.

♪♪ The emphasis was on technique, on manual dexterity, how to do that fast and well, according to the habit of the house, without any deviation.

There was a system of rules, certain dogma to cooking.

At the Plaza Athénée, we cooked a tomato this way.

The stem of the tomato is there.

You cut the tomato this way.

I would have thought of turning the tomato, cutting it the other way.

Now, with the young chef, they practically want to sign that dish, make sure that I am the one who did it.

At that time, no. It was conforming.

'Conforming' was the word.

We cooked at night, and, of course, at 2:00 in the morning, we came out and we went out.

♪♪ We went out dancing at night.

We went out to the We knew all the bars.

Of course, all the prostitutes in the bar that we could say hello to, fine, because they were all over the place.

Yeah, um, couldn't afford them, but we could go in to say hello.

And I remember going dancing.

You invite a young lady to dance.

You dance. They'd say, 'What do you do?'

'I'm a cook at the Plaza Athénée,' you know, that -- nothing to do with the prestige of the cook now.

And any good mother would have wanted her child to marry the doctor or a lawyer, certainly not a cook.

[ Suspenseful music climbs ] Man: Violence is mounting in Algeria.

Bombings and death are a daily part of life and the death toll averages 30 a day.

[ Blast ] [ Blast, explosion ] Tucci: In the mid-1950s, France was embroiled in a controversial war in Algeria.

Jacques was drafted into the Navy, and it appeared his carefree days in Paris would end in combat.

But he got a lucky break: because his older brother Roland was already on the front, Jacques was assigned to stay in Paris, as a cook at Navy headquarters.

Word spread about the accomplished restaurant chef in their midst, and Jacques was soon creating special dinners for top brass.

Bourdain: He's a guy who clearly stands apart from others in his profession.

I think he was recognized as special at every stage in his career, singled out.

This is an unusually hardworking, intelligent guy.

Tucci: Jacques so impressed his superiors that he was quickly assigned to be the sole chef in France's version of the White House, called Hôtel Matignon.

[ Classical instrumental plays ] Jacques: At some point, we were having more sophisticated dinner, so I told the people in charge there, I said, 'I need someone to work with me.

I need another chef.'

Szurdak: I went in the Army, like every French man, and the sergeant come. He said, 'The Captain wanted to see you.'

I said, 'Me?'

He said, 'Yeah. You.'

Because the chef in the Matignon needed a pastry chef.

So they take me to Matignon and He said, 'You just wait over here.'

I came in that room through another door and I said, 'Attention!' [chuckle] He jumped to attention.

He was already terrorized.

So I turned around and said, 'Hah-hah! My friend, hm-hm.'

Oh, my God!

I like that and my leg's doing like this.

I said, 'What kind of animal this guy is?

He's the chef.' [sigh] And he turned around me, and looking, 'Uh-huh.'

So, I went like that for about a couple of minutes and I said, 'Hey, you want a glass of red or white?'

He looked at me, didn't know what it was.

And then we became friends.

Yeah, I played a joke on him.

Tucci: It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, one that started in the kitchen and where they have returned, time and again, over six decades.

[ Speaks indistinctly ] Szurdak: Mm-mm.

[ Voice speaking indistinctly ] [ Suspenseful music climbs ] Tucci: In the kitchen of Hôtel Matignon, Jacques and Jean-Claude would soon be cooking for a succession of French heads of state, including France's greatest war hero, Charles de Gaulle.

Jacques: De Gaulle was very impressive, probably because he was very tall.

You know, 6'4', 6'5', and also because he was basically blind.

People don't realize. So he had his head like that.

He'd walk on. You know?

But, frankly, I dealt with men like de Gaulle, who call me 'Petit Jacques.'

They're very mundane, usually.

We did the menu for the week.

I served Nehru, Tito, Macmillan, Eisenhower, who were the head of state at the time.

♪♪ Szurdak: The caviar. We had it like one kilo of caviar every day.

You make canapés.

It was the horn of plenty, good food.

Jacques: A pheasant inverted, with all truffle around and stuff.

Things that would be impossible to do.

I mean, it would cost a fortune to do that.

And it was a great, great apprenticeship for me.

Types of dishes which were done in the 19th century, during -- Escoffier that you cannot do anymore.

And we doing that on the plate of Marie Antoinette, that you have to be very careful not to break one.

De Gaulle certainly was very nice with me, but that stopped there.

You would never, never, be introduced to the guests.

You would never go to the dining room.

No one ever came to the kitchen, unless something was wrong.

So the cook was still really at the bottom of the social scale.

Tucci: By the time his Navy service was over, Jacques was 23 and had been behind a stove for 10 straight years.

He was itching for a change of scene.

Jacques: I was excited by going abroad, by learning a new language.

America was the Golden Fleece, you know?

It was the promised land for many people after the war, and me included.

Tucci: He convinced Jean-Claude that they should try their luck as cooks in America.

This time, he told his mother the truth: He didn't have a job lined up, but was heading off for what he thought would be a year-long adventure.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Cowin: In America, in the 1950s, the food was frozen.

We had discovered these shortcuts to making food fast.

We're talking about the home cook now.

The home cook was so excited to get through their tasks of the day in the kitchen.

The kitchen was a place of drudgery.

Jacques: The first time that I went into a real supermarket, well, I thought it was a fantastic idea.

However, there was basically no vegetables.

I remember going there and saying, 'Where are all the mushrooms?'

'Aisle 5.' Aisle 5 was canned mushrooms.

Cowin: When you look at the restaurant scene, the most famous places were fancy and French.

There was no Italian, even.

The idea of going out to a restaurant for American food?

Ridiculous.

So when Jacques came to America, he was a master in a country that was looking for more of them.

Because in America, in the '50s, let me tell you, we were not minting masters.

Tucci: Armed with references from some of France's most revered chefs, Jacques was hired on the spot on his very first interview.

Freedman: Le Pavillon was the undisputed greatest restaurant in the United States for much of the 20th century.

It was a beautiful, distinguished-looking place, certainly not a place where you would want to have forgotten your tie, if you were a man.

Jacques: All of the great artists of the time were there, and all the celebrities.

The Kennedy family were there.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Tucci: Jacques was cooking for America's elite, and his reputation started to spread among the Pavillon regulars.

Man: Do you serve many meals here?

Kennedy: Yes. This is where all the state dinners and lunches are given.

Tucci: In 1960, the newly elected First Family offered him the keys to Camelot: the plum role of White House chef.

It was a dream job, but not for someone who had already cooked enough state dinners for a lifetime.

Jacques: I turned it down and then they called me again a couple of weeks after to ask me again if I wanted to go, and I decided not to go.

I went to Howard Johnson. [chuckle] [Toot-toot-toot] Singer: ♪ On the road around the corner ♪ ♪ Here's the place to go ♪ The orange roof of Howard Johnson's ♪ ♪ join the folks who know ♪ Howard Johnson's ♪ Next stop Bourdain: Really, Howard Johnson's?

But we forget how revolutionary a concept Howard Johnson's was at the time.

These family restaurants that would be everywhere, consistent, connected by all the highways of America.

And it must've seemed, to an open-minded young chef, a place of unlimited possibilities.

[ Whimsical tune plays ] Freedman: Howard Johnson's served more people at that time than any other institution except the US Army.

Tucci: Howard Johnson's name may have been synonymous with middle-class American food, but the man himself was a gourmet.

He'd been a regular patron at Le Pavillon.

Johnson recruited Jacques to be the company's director of research and development.

His first assignment?

A few weeks working undercover.

Jacques: Mr. Johnson said, 'Well, if Jacques wants to work, he's got to work in one of our restaurants,' so I went there to start flipping burgers behind the stove.

The whole group in the kitchen were African American.

Working with them -- they never heard of Le Pavillon, of course.

They couldn't even care who de Gaulle or the French government were.

So I wasn't really a big star, but you know, like any kitchen, you have to pull your weight, and that's what I did.

In a couple of weeks, I could flip burger and do French fries as fast or faster than anyone else, so that's how you get respect, you know, in the kitchen, still, now.

Bourdain: How few French chefs of the time did not hold American food in utter contempt.

None. [laughs] As far as I know.

He's not a snob.

And I think he was one of the first to see the possibilities in American products and in American recipes and preparations.

Tucci: Soon, Jacques was working in the company's test kitchen, joining Chef Pierre Franey, whom Howard Johnson had also lured away from Le Pavillon.

Jacques: He said, 'Pierre, Jacques, you do whatever you want. You have free hand.'

The fried clam? We made it better.

They used margarine. We changed to butter.

We used fresh onions instead of dehydrated onion.

All kinds of recipes we started doing it.

Seafood Newberg, beef Burgundy, beef Stroganoff.

We'd do five pounds in the test kitchen.

I'd start charging. Then 150 pounds, and we end up with 3,000 pounds of beef Burgundy in a 500-gallon kettle.

Szurdak: Jacques said, on my day off, he said, 'Why don't you come with me and you'll see where we work?'

My goodness. A pot to boil things.

You have to take a ladder and go up and see the way it's boiling.

I'd never seen all these things.

So I said, 'Well, it's good because he's learning like a new trade in America.'

Jacques: Because I was director of research, I had to establish recipes.

I had to explain how do you make that.

I learned marketing, mass production, American taste.

It set up my life for the future.

Zakaria: The Howard Johnson experience tells me that Jacques Pépin, deep down, is an American.

Because here's this guys who's cooked for de Gaulle, who's cooked at Pavillon, the great temples of old cuisine, and then he gets a chance to do something on a scale that is completely different.

Taking cooking and mixing it with mass-consumer capitalism.

In some ways, it is the ultimate expression of Jacques Pépin as an entrepreneur.

♪♪ Jacques: I'm gonna do a menu. I'm going to draw that.

Menus are a nice memento.

And I have 10 big books of menus at home.

You know, when I first came to America, I went to Columbia University and I loved it.

I had some choice to take a couple of classes where I wanted.

I said, 'Oh, I'd love to learn how to draw a little bit.'

So I took class, and I guess I got the bug.

I had a bit of a complex about not having an education.

And I started at Columbia.

I enrolled in the English for foreign students, then went to the next level, then the next level.

Columbia gave me great confidence.

I was doing what I wanted to do.

I was better in my skin.

Tucci: After getting a BA and a Master's, Jacques was on the verge of of PhD, but his thesis topic, food in French literature, was rejected.

Taking food seriously was still a radical idea, except among Jacques's tight-knit group of friends, mavericks who were about to spark an American food revolution.

Jacques: The food world was very, very small at that point.

I had met Craig Claiborne, who just started working at the food critic and food editor.

So you know, within six, eight months I was here, I knew the trinity of cooking: James Beard, Julia Child, and Craig Claiborne.

And Craig Claiborne was for me the most influential of all of them.

I loved Craig.

I came to his house in East Hampton.

It was so open, so casual.

It was really, really what cooking should be about: that communion between friends, a lot of drinking, and then the sharing of food with all the guests.

And there was no social strata.

We mingled together without any differences, and for me, that was an eye opener and certainly one of the reasons that I stayed in America and became an American citizen.

Those were some of the best years of life, without any question.

[ Suspenseful music plays ] Gloria: Well, I picked him up on the ski slope.

We were both skiing in the same ski area.

I was ski patrol.

He was in the ski school.

He had a nice bun. [laughs] He had long sideburns and I wasn't sure whether we was straight or gay because he was so good-looking.

But I said, 'I'll give it a shot.'

And I booked a private lesson with him, even though I could ski better than he could.

And, all the way down on the mountain, he was beating on my legs with a ski pole.

'Bend you knees. Knees into the hill.'

He found so many things wrong with my skiing.

So I never got to first base.

So I had to take a second lesson.

And then, our second day, he invited me to his apartment and he cooked dinner.

And it was wonderful.

But it was all stuff from Howard Johnson's.

I didn't know that.

He just reheated this beef bourguignon and then I finally found out who he was and what he did.

♪♪ We had no money.

Craig decided to do our wedding.

All his chef friends cooked.

He was in the kitchen 20 minutes before we got married.

They finally threw him out and said, 'Hey, you better get dressed,' you know, 'you're getting married.' [laughs] ♪♪ Jacques: This is my people's wall, all people important in my life.

This is Jean-Claude for his wedding.

This is Claudine when she was small.

I put a chef's hat on her. [laughs] We had the baby.

Tucci: The growing family settled upstate, where Jacques's talent for carpentry, painting, and foraging transformed an abandoned house into a kind of rural utopia.

Bramson: Jacques and Gloria had a marvelous life.

I mean, they were mushroom-hunting.

Jacques was catching frogs at midnight in the pond.

He was gardening. He was building stone walls.

He was painting.

From the rafters, you have hams curing.

The fish were smoking.

It was almost a fantasy for the rest of us, but it was so natural because this is how he grew up.

♪♪ Zakaria: Key to Jacques is the fact that he's an immigrant.

You come with a certain drive.

You come with a desire to make it.

You come with a passion about America.

You're also leaving behind something.

There is a loss.

But more than anything else, it brings a certain kind of determination that he's always had, a kind of fire in your belly that just doesn't go away.

Tucci: After a decade at Howard Johnson's, Jacques struck out on his own, opening an innovative lunch spot in the heart of Manhattan that served just one thing: soup.

La Potagerie was an instant hit and got him his first taste of media attention.

[ Upbeat tune plays ] Man: Let's all play 'What's My Line?'! [ Cheering and applause ] ♪♪ Bruner: Well, now, how many different types of soup do you serve at the...? Jacques: Well, at La Potagerie, we serve about 17 soups now, but we sell three a day.

Rayburn: They're terrific, Wally.

I've eaten there a number of times.

Bruner: Oh, so you should be almost an expert on them, right?

Rayburn: Well, they're very good.

They got good, thick, peasant soups, you know, with chunks of meat in them.

Shalit: Meat of peasants. -Rayburn: Yeah.

Jacques: What do you associate with breakfast?

Woman: Bacon. -Jacques: Bacon.

Woman: I associate, uh, ham and bacon.

Jacques: And bacon. -Woman: Anything else you like to add. -Jacques: Oatmeal. Yeah.

Woman: How come you are so cute? [Laughter] [ Applause ] Tucci: It was a happy, heady time for Jacques.

After 15 years in America, it seemed he'd hit his stride, professionally, and at home.

Jacques: One day there in July, actually, of 1974, I had played tennis for five hours a day.

[ Engine starts ] And on the way back, I was going probably way too fast.

A deer came out of nowhere and I tried to avoid it and... [ Tires screeching ] ...fling all around the road and land upside down on the other side.

I saw some flames starting. So the window was open.

I crawled outside and then I passed out.

They came out to investigate and called the rescue squad and took me to the hospital.

I broke my back, my two hips, my pelvis in five places, leg, arm.

[ Haunting tune plays ] Gloria: I rode down to the hospital in the ambulance 'cause they didn't think he would live.

Then I started talking to the doctor and the doctor wouldn't speak to me.

'We have to keep him alive. [tearfully] Go away.'

And then I had to sign a paper 'cause they were gonna amputate his arm, 'cause it was such a bad break.

Szurdak: He was close to passed away, you know?

Gloria said then, 'The doctors don't want to do anything for three days.

If he survives that, they will operate.

Claudine: My father was in the hospital for many, many, many months and I remember him coming home and I remember him being thin.

Gloria: He didn't know if he'd walk again, which, he proved them wrong, but he knew he couldn't stand behind a stove anymore, because of his hip and leg problems.

Jacques: So life changed for me completely at that point, but then I started picking up, walking again, with a limp, with crutches, and with a cane, but that kind of certainly was a catalyst to push my life in a different direction.

Tucci: Settling into a more manageable life in Connecticut, Jacques turned to writing.

He had spent years watching Americans cook and was convinced they were missing something very basic.

Jacques: I may not have thought of telling people how to peel a carrot or whatever.

I thought it was a given. People know that.

But they'd say, 'Oh, that's how you peel a carrot?'

I'd say, 'Yes.'

Bramson: And he just kept seeing that everybody did all these things not quite right and somehow there is a bar, there is a way to do things, and he wanted to show that way.

So Jacques had this book in mind.

Tucci: Working in his home kitchen with a photographer taking some 6,000 pictures, Jacques demonstrated everything from basic butchery to fine decoration.

It was an entirely new idea: a cookbook without recipes.

He called it simply 'La Technique.'

Bramson: Jacques deconstructed all the moments in which your hands and food interact.

The breadth and depth of his knowledge is really astounding.

I don't know anybody who could do what he did and he created a bible.

Szurdak: Nobody told him what to do.

He knew it at the time.

That's what every new chef should know.

Colicchio: As a young 15-year-old, sitting in my kitchen in Elizabeth, New Jersey, this book opened up this idea of the possibility of what cooking could be.

And I think what he said was, 'Don't treat this as a cookbook.

Treat it as an apprenticeship' and I really took that to heart.

And so I would work through the book.

I would go out and buy celery, 'cause it was really inexpensive, and practice knife skills.

And, you know, there's also some funny stuff in there, too, like how to make a rabbit out of an olive.

That was always like a little parlor trick, you know?

You can impress your girlfriend, like, 'Hey, look what I can do with an olive.'

Back then, the idea of a chef was someone in a wifebeater with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth, stirring red sauce.

And my career could've gone that direction, but 'La Technique' clearly informed me that there was a lot more out there, so it just completely opened these doors.

Cowin: You look at Julia Child and she was introducing you to a world around food and the dishes themselves, but what Jacques did was he deconstructed to do it, so that you could feel empowered.

It's the greatest novel of empowerment, but it happens to be a cookbook.

Tucci: 'La Technique' became a classic, never going out of print.

He followed it up with 'La Methode' and expanded them in color as 'The Art of Cooking.'

The books became cornerstones of a new food movement.

Small cooking schools and gourmet shops were popping up across the country.

♪♪ Americans were embracing a world of good cooking, and Jacques went on the road to meet them.

Fenzl: Most of my clients were wealthy housewives that were wanting to learn to cook.

I mean, Julia was on TV and they wanted to learn some of these techniques, but a lot of them just wanted to come and see Jacques -- he was very attractive -- and always wanted a front-row seat.

There was no Food Channel. There was no Food Network.

None of that.

And so for them to come and learn how to bone out a leg of lamb or make a wonderful sauce or a fancy dessert.

I mean, they really did go home and try it.

It must've been terribly tiring, I mean, to not only be out all the time, but to be on an airplane all the time, but that's the way he supported the family back then, so it was necessary.

Claudine: Usually, about 36, 38 weeks of the year, he was on the road, and we were never upset that he was gone.

That was the rule in the house: You can never be upset that he's gone.

Because he's out, working.

It wasn't like he was playing golf.

Bramson: Those days when Jacques was teaching, there were all these... He was adorable. You have to understand.

He was just adorable.

I mean, he still is. I mean he's eighty-what? He's -- So, but there were all these women, were always throwing themselves at him, you know, and everybody with, you know, skirts open to here and tops open to there.

Gloria: And I just refused to be jealous.

And I've had women send pictures of him with his arm around them.

They send them to the house.

And fine.

'Oh, she's cute, yeah.'

He doesn't even remember them.

And, if he does, he doesn't tell me 'cause he's too smart.

[ Laughs ] Jacques: Welcome to our series on everyday cooking.

Tucci: It was time for a bigger platform.

In the early 1980s, there was still only a handful of television cooking shows.

And they all featured home cooks.

Jacques decided to break the mold.

His first attempt featured dazzling professional technique, but the show never caught on.

He then spent years honing his on-camera skills with guest appearances, on talk shows with friends... Man: Now, we're in descending order, here.

Child: How tall are you? -Man: 6'4'. How tall are you? -Child: I'm 6'2'. Man: How tall are you? -Jacques: 5'1'. [Laughter] Child: No.

Tucci: ...and finally put it all together in 1990 with a team in food-forward San Francisco, which would remain his public- television home for decades.

Jacques: Everyone says, 'I can't cook,' you know, 'I don't have time to cook.'

Well, you don't need that much time to cook well.

All you need is organization.

Tucci: The series broke new ground, focusing on lighter, contemporary cooking, as Jacques turned out complete meals.

Hall: He was cooking live, right then.

So the power in that is saying to the viewer, 'You can do this in real time at home.'

He'd make several recipes in a 30-minute show.

Jacques: Now it's time to enjoy it.

And you should spend more time enjoying it than cooking it.

Took me 22 minutes.

I didn't want to do short cooks.

I didn't want to have anything cooked and diced for me.

I wanted to cook, dice it.

I wanted to show them technique.

I wanted people to understand the pleasure of sharing.

I wanted to understand people to have a glass of wine was good with it.

Zakaria: I grew up in India, came to the United States on scholarship as a student, and so I decided I would teach myself how to cook.

I stumbled upon Jacques Pépin's television shows.

And here was this guy effortlessly showing you that there was a kind of craft to cooking.

Of course, he takes it to an art, but for the rest of us, at least we can learn the craft.

Jacques: I like it to look nice, and I want to show you how to make so it looks nice.

Colicchio: He had a yearning to teach people, to teach people about food and teach people that, through cooking, you are making people happy.

When someone has that kind of passion, the camera sees it.

Sitting at home, you saw this love for food.

Not about being a star, but about really putting the food first.

And I think that's what really set him apart from everybody else that was on TV.

Hall: I have this fascination of watching people's hands when they cook.

To watch Jacques do the omelette, holding the pan just right and then folding it perfectly on the plate?

Elegance.

Jacques: And often people do this, and it doesn't come up and bring it back up, grab it at the knee, and crack it open here.

Bourdain: If you cook professionally, and you watch Jacques Pépin taking apart a chicken or cleaning a fish, there's a frisson of pleasure.

[ Laughs ] Jacques was the first professional out there who was showing you 'This is the way it's done, kids.'

It's a beautiful thing to watch.

I mean, beautiful.

Claudine: This looks really bad.

Jacques: Yeah, that's bad.

We'll have to cut that piece off.

Bourdain: Bringing Claudine on the show, like so many of the things that Jacques has done successfully in his life, seems counterintuitive... Claudine: Just -- Just on top? No... Jacques: Yes, yes. -Claudine: Okay.

Jacques: You want to just spread it out, exactly just what you're doing here.

Bourdain: ... but yet again, defies the conventional wisdom.

Claudine: You said just... This... This way.

Jacques: Take... No, no, no, no.

Claudine: No. When my father first asked me to be on the show with him, it was extremely intimidating.

Jacques: This way. It goes this way.

And now, you see the line here? The line is parallel to the thing. -Claudine: Okay.

What my father wanted from me was to ask the questions that hopefully somebody at home would have.

Now, these you cleaned already, right, before we were doing this?

Jacques: You wipe them off gently.

Claudine: The world got to see me learn literally how to cook.

So many people would say, after the first series, 'Oh, you knew how to do that.'

I'm like, 'No. No, I did not.'

[Sizzling] Jacques: And take this.

Claudine: And this is pyrotechnic cooking.

Now I feel like I bring something to the table.

I feel like we really worked together, as opposed to just him taking me along for the ride.

Here you go. -Jacques: You did incredible.

Claudine: And you can have some milk.

Jacques: You want some milk? Okay, cling.

Chin-chin. -Claudine: Chin-chin.

Jacques: You cannot cook great food without mixing some love into it.

Happy cooking. -Claudine: Happy cooking.

[ Beep ] Tuesday, Today, we're gonna do soufflés.

As everyone knows, the heart of the good soufflé is... Jacques: Egg white. Beaten egg white.

And I'm going to do mine in copper.

I beat it faster than the machine.

Child: Well, we're gonna see if you're faster than the machine.

Jacques: All right. -Child: Okay.

Want to have a countdown? -Jacques: Yes.

Child: One, two, three, go! [Gunshot] Heller: Julia and Jacques, they had such a mutual admiration for each other, and respect, but at the same time, they were like a brother and sister.

Sometimes they would fight with each other.

Jacques: You're putting a collar on yours?

I never but a collar on my soufflé, but... Child: Well, yours don't rise high enough.

Jacques: Oh, that's true. [laughs] Heller: But overall, they always came back to their roots of respect.

Jacques: Okay, so I'll start folding and you can add cheese. That's right.

Child: This is much better doing it with two people, isn't it?

Heller: This was the like once-in-a-lifetime experience to coordinate between the two of them.

Jacques: Mmm.

Very good, huh? -Child: That's good.

Jacques: That's great. -Child: Mmm.

Heller: I was the peacemaker, taking a look at what Jacques wanted and Julia wanted and trying to come up with something that made everybody happy.

We would have production meetings every day.

[laughs] I don't even know if I should go into this.

Jacques: And I'd kick her. -Heller: But I would... Jacques: Kick her under the table.

'No, we're not doing that.' -Heller: I said to Jacques, I went, 'Look, I really want Julia to be able to do what she wants to do, and if there's something that Julia wants to do that you really don't want, just kick me,' and there were a couple times I got really big kicks in the shin.

Jacques: When we decided to do the show with Julia, and many people commented after we did the show that she was much more French than I was.

We'd do something and she would tell me, 'You don't do it like that in Paris.'

I said, 'Well, I'm from Connecticut, anyway, so...' Or she said, 'That's how we do it.'

I put a little bit of Parmesan cheese inside.

Child: I want to see if it's bitter or not.

Jacques: What do you think?

Child: It's not very tender, Jacques: It's not? -Child: but it tastes okay.

I like that old-fashioned way of... Jacques: Of boiling it. -Child: of boiling it and squeezing it.

You get it tender and you don't get that slight bitterness.

Jacques: Hmm. -Child: But you can do it either way.

Jacques: I mean, in a more modern way, I tend to do it this way, with less love of nutrient and... Child: We don't care about nutrients.

We care about -Jacques: Okay.

Child: taste. -Jacques: Yes, but, when you get both -Child: Don't we?

Jacques: together, you know? -Child: But it's still a little... It's not very tender.

It still has a slight bitterness to it.

Doesn't it? -Jacques: I think it's very tender. Very. [laughs] Child: Maybe you have sharper teeth than I do.

[ Laughter ] Bourdain: What's glorious about, particularly, the Julia Child/ Jacques Pépin combination, is neither of them would have a television career today.

They would both be -- There was no way that they would get a show today.

They'd look at Julia and they'd say, 'She's not, you know, a beauty queen.'

And him, Jacques, 'He's got an accent.' But they pioneered.

And people responded really powerfully because they were, not just good, but let's face it, awesome.

Child: Bon appétit. -Jacques: And happy cooking.

Child: It's lovely to cook with you, Jacques.

Jacques: And with you, too. -Child: And here's to you.

♪♪ Tucci: The show won Jacques a national Emmy Award.

Just as America's fascination with food kicked into high gear, Jacques stepped up a dizzying pace of teaching, writing, and cooking. -Jacques: Happy cooking.

Tucci: Now with nearly 30 cookbooks and 14 television series, he has assumed the role of elder statesman, a celebrity in a world of cooking unimaginable when he arrived in America, but one that he himself helped bring about.

[Pop] [Cheering and applause] Ray: It's crazy, the reaction Jacques can get from teaching people how to make scrambled eggs.

He is mesmerizing.

[ Applause ] Samuelsson: Jacques is like sort of the engine of all of that, why all of this stuff now matters.

I know my success is embedded with Jacques's and that generation's first sort of standing up for what becoming a chef is.

Hall: Everyone sees him as kind of like a godfather in the culinary world.

We see him celebrated.

Hall: I mean, this year with his 80th birthday, and he's probably had 80 parties -- or 365 80th-birthday parties.

Heller: So, his 80th birthday celebration, part of it was going to be a big celebration in Washington, DC with hundreds on people and 80 birthday cakes.

And I got a call and the call was from Gloria, saying, 'Jacques has had a stroke.'

Claudine: It was not a very severe stroke, and he happened to be dining with his physician and his cardiologist at that moment.

Lucky for him because they knew right away what had happened.

Heller: By the time I could get a plane and get to Connecticut, he was out of the hospital and saying that he was absolutely going to Washington, DC the next day.

And he said, 'But I'm supposed to be there. You know, it's my birthday. Everybody's done all of this for me.'

Fenzl: But I think the people that really love him knew he shouldn't come and it probably wouldn't have been a good idea to have to get on a plane and so we're going to be Skyping with him tonight, and we'll toast to him in his office in Madison, Connecticut.

[ Indistinct conversations ] Woman: Happy birthday. How are you?

Jacques: I can't believe that I'm not there, but I'm here with Claudine.

All: ♪ Happy birthday, dear Jacques ♪ Man: I am so grateful to know you.

I'm so grateful for the many, many gifts that you've given to our industry.

Waters: You came here in this dining room, right there at that table, and you cooked a beautiful meal.

Woman: We what you've taught us in the kitchen.

If cooking is a language, I would be mute without what Jacques has taught me.

All: ♪ Happy birthday to you [ Cheering and applause ] Man: Jacques Pépin, Voice: Jacques.

[ Man speaking Asian language ] Woman: All: Happy birthday!

[Applause] Whoo!

Jacques: Ah, incredible.

[ Cheering and applause ] Man: Yeah!

♪♪ [ Horn honks ] Tucci: Within weeks, Jacques had resumed his whirlwind schedule of teaching and demonstrations.

[ Laughter ] Man: Thank you, Chef.

Claudine: He's 80.

I think we're just very, very lucky that he's like the little Energizer Bunny: He just keeps goin' and goin' and goin'. Jacques: Okay.

Meyer: You know, a lot of people say that cooking is a young person's game.

'Cause let's face it, it's really exhausting to be a professional cook, a professional chef.

And I think it's really inspirational for people in our industry to see somebody who not only reinvents himself but has never lost one ounce of joy, in terms of the spirit with which he does it.

Andrés: More than a good cook.

More than a great chef.

It's somebody that really is able to bring know-how, a peaceful soul, a respect to the ingredients, respect to his craft, all at once.

♪♪ Bourdain: What does the word 'chef' mean?

It means 'I am a leader.

I'm a leader, of cooks.'

He will always be a chef.

Jacques: Look at the mess you're doing.

Gloria! Look at the mess he's doing in your kitchen.

Szurdak: No, no, no, no, no, no. Gloria, stay where you are.

Stay where you are. He had two brothers.

One died. The other brother died.

And, well, so I shook his hand and I said, 'Jacques, I am so sorry.

You have no more brothers.'

And he said, 'Yeah, I still have a brother,' and he shook my hand.

♪♪ Jacques: People always ask you that question: What would be your last meal?

I don't know what it would be, but I know it would be very, very, very, very long.

Claudine: Cheers! -Jacques: Yeah, cheers.

[ Clinking ] [Girl speaks indistinctly] -Jacques: Wow.

[ Speaks indistinctly ] Ah! -Woman: Ha!

[ Laughter ] Woman: Picture.

♪♪ [ Indistinct conversation ] [ Speaking French ] -'Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft' is available on DVD.

To order, visit shoppbs.org or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

♪♪ [ Laughter ] ♪♪ -Good morning.

-American master.

-Pbht! Whoo!