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S31 Ep5

Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft

Premiere: 5/26/2017 | 00:01:00 |

Jacques Pépin is known as a kitchen supernova, a working whirlwind of creative energy even at 80 years old, but his surprising journey began 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.

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About the Episode

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.

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"I feel that if Jacques Pépin shows you how to make an omelet, the matter is pretty much settled. That’s God talking. "

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.

About American Masters
Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources and more. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel. The series is available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video app, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. PBS station members can view episodes via Passport (contact your local PBS station for details).

About WNET
WNET is America’s flagship PBS station: parent company of New York’s THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its new ALL ARTS multi-platform initiative, its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each month. WNET produces and presents a wide range of acclaimed PBS series, including NATURE, GREAT PERFORMANCES, AMERICAN MASTERS, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND, and the nightly interview program AMANPOUR AND COMPANY. In addition, WNET produces numerous documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings, as well as multi-platform initiatives addressing poverty and climate. Through THIRTEEN Passport and WLIW Passport, station members can stream new and archival THIRTEEN, WLIW and PBS programming anytime, anywhere.