KQED’s first in-house production for American Masters, Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft, premieres on Friday, May 26, at 9pm on KQED 9, and nationally at the same date and time on PBS stations nationwide. Produced and directed by Peter L. Stein and narrated by Stanley Tucci, this new documentary profiles the life and career of chef Jacques Pépin, a young immigrant with movie-star looks and a charming Gallic accent, who elevated essential kitchen techniques to an art form, becoming one of America’s most beloved food icons. The film will premiere as part of American Masters’ Chefs Flight series, which will also include documentaries about three other legendary chefs — Alice Waters, James Beard and Julia Child.
“There are few public figures as central to KQED’s television programming identity as Jacques Pépin,” says the film’s Executive Producer and KQED’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Isip. “KQED has been Jacques’ television home for more than a quarter century, and we’ve been so fortunate to work with him on several successful national cooking series such as Today’s Gourmet, Heart & Soul and Essential Pépin. It’s only fitting that our first production for American Masters explores Jacques’ life and career, and how he has revolutionized the way Americans prepare and eat food.”
Pépin, the second of three sons, was born in 1935 in Bourg-en-Bresse, near Lyon. The film traces Pépin’s journey from his childhood in the countryside of wartime France, where his family’s tradition of entrepreneurial women running homegrown restaurants propelled him into an early culinary career.
At the age of 13, Pépin leaves home to begin a formal apprenticeship at the distinguished Grand Hôtel de l’Europe. His first break comes at 16, when, as the sole chef, he cooks the fireman’s banquet in the alpine resort town of Bellegarde, a success that results in his first newspaper photo op. “I start to realize that I could put some of myself in the food. It didn’t have to be exactly the way my mother wanted it to be,” says Pépin, recalling this pivotal moment in his life.
Nearly 17, Pépin moves to Paris, initially without a job, and eventually works at dozens of restaurants learning about classical cooking. He trains under Lucien Diat at the Hotel Plaza Athénée, where the emphasis is on technique. Four years later, he is drafted into the Navy, but because his older brother is already on the front, Pépin is assigned to stay in Paris as a cook at Navy headquarters. Now an accomplished chef, he is assigned to create special dinners for the top brass and becomes the personal chef for three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. But Pépin understands that in the late 1950s, the cook, even if “first chef,” is really at the bottom of the social scale and viewed as the help. Not content cooking in French palaces, Pépin decides to move to the United States in 1959.
“I was excited about going abroad, by learning a new language,” says Pépin. “America was a golden fleece, you know, it was the Promised Land for many people after the war, and me included.”
In New York, Pépin lands a job at Le Pavillon, the most influential French restaurant in the country, and soon meets the three people he calls the “Trinity of Cooking”: Craig Claiborne, food editor of The New York Times; Beard; Julia Child. In later years, he partners with Child on a television series, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, for which he and Child win a Daytime Emmy in 2001.
While at Le Pavillon, Pépin is courted for the position of “first chef” in the new Kennedy White House, a position he turns down. Instead, he goes to work in the kitchens of Howard Johnson’s hotel and restaurant chain (1960–70) where he learns about mass production, marketing, food chemistry and American popular food.
“Jacques Pépin really was the first person to land on the American scene and say technique matters, craft matters,” says journalist Fareed Zakaria.
In 1974, a near fatal car accident is the catalyst that pushes Pépin’s life in a different direction as writer, teacher, and ultimately a media star. With his early landmark books on the fundamentals of culinary craft, La Technique (1976) and La Methôde (1978), and public television shows — most of them produced at KQED in San Francisco — Pépin ushers in a new era in American food culture.
An American citizen for more than half a century, at age 81, Pépin continues to crisscross the country teaching, cooking, speaking, consulting and enjoying the celebrity generated by 14 television shows, nearly 30 cookbooks and accolades including the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor.
Interviews with Pépin’s wife Gloria and daughter Claudine, culinary stars and media personalities, including José Andrés, Daniel Boulud, Anthony Bourdain, Tom Colicchio, Rachael Ray, Marcus Samuelsson and Fareed Zakaria, offer insights about the man, who with his catchphrase “happy cooking,” has always emphasized honesty of ingredients, simplicity of approach, and a joy for sharing food with loved ones.
“You look at Julia Child and she was introducing you to a world around food and the dishes themselves,” says Dana Cowin, former editor-in-chief, Food and Wine. “But what Jacques did was he deconstructed how to do it so that you could feel empowered. It’s the greatest novel of empowerment, but it happens to be a cookbook.”
The film is produced and directed by Peter L. Stein, a Peabody Award–winning documentary filmmaker based in San Francisco who first started working with Pépin in 1989 as producer of what became Pépin’s landmark public television series Today’s Gourmet. Stein went on to oversee seven seasons of cooking programs with Pépin in the 1990s. “Coming back into Jacques’ life after all these years to help tell his remarkable story has been a real privilege,” says Stein, “Especially now, in our food- and chef-crazed culture, to be able to reflect back and see his career as pivotal in transforming the way America cooks, eats, and appreciates the role of the chef in America.”
“Pépin authored some of the first American cookbooks that focused not on menus or recipes, but rather on the fundamental techniques of cooking,” says Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters. “When you watch him interact with food, he is like an amazing magician — but a magician who will not only disclose the tricks of the trade, but teach them to you so you can amaze your own audience.”
Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft will be paired with an encore presentation of American Masters – Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution at 10pm. On the preceding Friday, Friday, May 19, a new film about James Beard, American Masters – James Beard: America’s First Foodie, will air with an encore presentation about Julia Child, American Masters – Julia! America’s Favorite Chef at 9pm and 10pm, respectively.
American Masters – James Beard: America’s First Foodie
Premieres Friday, May 19, 9pm on KQED 9
Experience a century of food through the life of one man, James Beard (1903–1985). Dubbed the “Dean of American Cookery” by The New York Times, Beard helped to pioneer and expand the food media industry into the billion-dollar business it is today.
American Masters — Julia! America’s Favorite Chef
Friday, May 19, 10pm on KQED 9
Celebrate the life and legacy of Julia Child (1912–2004), fondly remembered for introducing French cuisine to American home cooks through her television series and books.
American Masters – Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft
Premieres Friday, May 26, 9pm on KQED 9
Discover the story of chef Jacques Pépin (b. December 18, 1935), a young immigrant with movie-star looks, a charming Gallic accent, and a mastery of cooking and teaching so breathtaking he became an early food icon — joining James Beard and Julia Child among the handful of Americans who transformed the way the country views the food world.
American Masters — Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution
Friday, May 26, 10pm on KQED 9
Follow Alice Waters through a year of seasonal shopping and cooking, and discover both the recipes and vision of an artist and an advocate.
KQED serves the people of Northern California with a public-supported alternative to commercial media. An NPR and PBS affiliate based in San Francisco, KQED is home to one of the most listened-to public radio stations in the nation, one of the highest-rated public television services and an award-winning education program helping students and educators thrive in 21st-century classrooms. A trusted news source and leader and innovator in interactive technology, KQED takes people of all ages on journeys of exploration — exposing them to new people, places and ideas. www.kqed.org
WNET is America’s flagship PBS station and parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21. WNET also operates NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its broadcast channels, three cable services (KidsThirteen, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings. WNET’s groundbreaking series for children and young adults include Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase as well as Mission US, the award-winning interactive history game. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Theater Close-Up, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the daily multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. In addition, WNET produces online-only programming including the award-winning series about gender identity, First Person, and an intergenerational look at tech and pop culture, The Chatterbox with Kevin and Grandma Lill. In 2015, THIRTEEN launched Passport, an online streaming service which allows members to see new and archival THIRTEEN and PBS programming anytime, anywhere: www.thirteen.org/passport.
About Feast it Forward
Exploring beyond the plate, bottle and guitar, Feast it Forward Network seeks to feed the soul with entertaining, inspiring and educational programming. As their Ultimate Airstream Film Lounge continues to hit the road and engage viewers while hosting unique lifestyle events, its flagship “live studio showroom” will open in downtown Napa Spring of 2017. A two story experiential estate, it will feature a 16 premier vintner tasting collective, a full demonstration studio kitchen, educational outdoor entertaining space, performing music stage, interior design showroom and much more. Beyond the growing online network programming which features master chefs, actors, tastemakers, and musicians, this live studio will truly bring Feast it Forward Network to life as viewers will be able to personally experience all things food, wine and philanthropy…with a taste of music. More information can be found at feastitforward.com
About PBS FOOD
PBS FOOD on-air programming this summer includes: American Masters ‘Chefs Flight,’ a series of four documentaries about iconic chefs James Beard, Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, and Alice Waters airing May 19 and 26; season four of the international cooking show phenomenon The Great British Baking Show, premiering June 16; Food – Delicious Science, the scientific story of food that reveals the physics, chemistry and biology hidden inside every bite; and season five of Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, which explores treasured recipes from the Arabian Gulf. PBS and its member stations have a long and storied history of presenting the best in food programming, from groundbreaking cooking shows to documentaries to highly rated competition shows and more. PBS FOOD at pbs.org/food compiles the best articles, videos, and recipes from across public television.
Support for Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft and the Chefs Flight series are provided by Feast It Forward. Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.