KQED doc a charming profile of food pioneer Jacques Pépin

The great French chef Jacques Pépin, pictured at right with Pierre Franey, created meals for Howard Johnsons in the 1970s. (Courtesy Pierre Franey Estate/KQED)

The great French chef Jacques Pépin, pictured at right with Pierre Franey, created meals for Howard Johnsons in the 1970s. (Courtesy Pierre Franey Estate/KQED)

Jacques Pépin has said, “I don’t know what my last meal will be, but it will be very, very long.”

That joie de vivre is evident throughout “Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft,” premiering Friday on KQED.

The documentary, directed by Peter L. Stein, is the first in-house KQED production created for “American Masters,” and it’s part of a “Chef’s Flight” series devoted to what producer Michael Kantor calls “the Mount Rushmore of the American culinary world”: Pépin, James Beard, Julia Child and Alice Waters. (An encore presentation of “Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution” airs Friday on PBS after the Pépin film.)

One of the funniest scenes in “The Art of Craft” shows Pépin and Child on TV, facing off in an egg-white whipping battle; at the conclusion she pulls out a (presumably) toy gun.

But “The Art of Craft” goes well beyond reporting on the famed French chef’s numerous cookbooks (about 30) and 14 TV shows.

The unlikely American cooking icon was born in 1935 in a town near Lyon, to an artistic and food-centered family that operated country restaurants, where he began to learn his trade.

“When you’re 13, you learn by osmosis,” says Pépin, who as a teen left home for an apprenticeship at Lyon’s distinguished Grand Hôtel de l’Europe.

A turning point came at 16, after he and the fish dish he prepared for a fireman’s banquet appeared in a photo in a local newspaper; he went on to work in dozens of restaurants, including learning classic technique at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris.

He got top job in the Navy, preparing meals for high-ranking officials and heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. (You have to be careful not to break one of Marie Antoinette’s dishes, he cracks.)

Still in his 20s, seeking new adventures, he and pal and fellow chef Jean-Claude Szurdak arrived at New York’s famed Le Pavillon.

He then turned down the post of White House chef for John F. Kennedy to work in research and development for Howard Johnsons, a job he held for a decade.

His charming wife Gloria jokes that when he cooked dinner, it was reheated beef bourguignon from HoJos.

After he almost dies in a car crash in 1974, he changes his focus to writing, teaching and television, including influential books “La
Technique” and “La Methôde” and groundbreaking PBS cooking shows (most produced at KQED with Peter Stein).

Some of his famous fans — including Anthony Bourdain, Tom Colicchio, Rachael Ray, Marcus Samuelsson and Fareed Zakaria — offer their accolades in this highly entertaining, informative film.

Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft
Directed by: Peter L. Stein
Narrated by: Stanley Tucci
When: 9 p.m. May 26 on KQED
American MastersFood and WineJacques PépinJacques Pépin: The Art of CraftJean-Claude SzurdakKQEDMovies and TVPBSPeter L. SteinPierre Franey

Just Posted

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

Glasses behind the bar at LUNA in the Mission District on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Glassware is just one of the many things restaurants have had trouble keeping in stock as supply chain problems ripple outward. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF restaurants face product shortages and skyrocketing costs

‘The supply chain crisis has impacted us in almost every way imaginable’

A Giants fans hangs his head in disbelief after the Dodgers won the NLDS in a controversial finish to a tight Game 5. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Giants dream season ends at the hands of the Dodgers, 2-1

A masterful game comes down to the bottom of the ninth, and San Francisco came up short

<strong>Workers with Urban Alchemy and the Downtown Streets Team clean at Seventh and Market streets on Oct. 12. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins> </strong>
Why is it so hard to keep San Francisco’s streets clean?

Some blame bureaucracy, others say it’s the residents’ fault

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — seen in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday — touted Congressional Democrats’ infrastructure bill in San Francisco on Thursday. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times)
Pelosi touts infrastructure bill as it nears finish line

Climate change, social safety net among major priorities of Democrats’ 10-year funding measure

Most Read