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Celebrating MET’s 50th, Gala Toasts Jacques Pépin

Famed chef and BU faculty member honored

Speaking to a crowd celebrating his 80th birthday last week at BU, celebrated chef and longtime Metropolitan College faculty member Jacques Pépin explained why he remains mystified by all the conflict and histrionics on popular television cooking shows. “If you walked into the kitchen” of four-star New York restaurant Per Se, Pépin said, “there would be no noise” except for the clanking of pots and pans, and people would be silently focused and working very hard.

“All that confrontation, the yelling” typical of shows like the Food Network’s Iron Chef America are anathema to Pépin (Hon.’11), whose longtime mantra is, “Cooking is an act of love.” He conceded that “okay, it’s television. But the truth is very boring.” He has hosted 13 (not boring) cooking series on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service)—with another in the works—and said he had turned down Food Network offers at least 10 times. As guests clutched copies of his latest book, Jacques Pépin: Heart & Soul in the Kitchen (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), the companion book to his new series, Tanya Zlateva, MET dean ad interim, lauded Pépin as “one of the people who transformed how America eats and enjoys food.”

“Hopefully I bring a lot of pleasure to people,” said Pépin.

The gala, titled The First 50: A Toast to Innovation, was a celebration of Pepin’s birthday and of MET’s 50th anniversary. The celebration’s guest of honor was joined by chefs and bakers from Il Capriccio, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Ashmont Grill, Summer Shack, L’Espalier, Clear Flour Bread, and many other Boston-area restaurants and bakeries. They had set up tables around the vast 808 Gallery to serve up a tantalizing assortment of amuse-bouches, among them black paella, citrus salmon tartare, escargots Thai, beet sorbet, and maple panna cotta. Some of the treats—including the panna cotta—were prepared and served by MET students, and Pépin himself rolled up his sleeves to help with the preparations. Local wine dealers and vintners were also on hand to dispense Chiantis and Chardonnays as selections from the Ella Fitzgerald songbook floated from the loudspeakers.

“Hopefully I bring a lot of pleasure to people,” said Pépin, author of 27 cookbooks and a cherished educator both on the PBS set and in MET’s culinary program kitchens. He has been a part-time faculty member at BU since 1983. Pépin chose the evening to announce a gift to MET. On October 22 he won the first annual Julia Child Award from the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, given to individuals who have made “a significant and profound difference in the way America cooks, eats, and drinks.” The award had special resonance for Pépin: in addition to being a good friend and frequent television collaborator, Child (Hon.’76) was a fellow MET faculty member, and she and Pepin cofounded the school’s Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts and Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy. Pépin presented MET with half of the $50,000 award.

Jaques Pepin at BU MET GalaJaques Pepin at BU MET Gala

Tanya Zlateva, MET dean ad interim, lauded Pépin as “one of the people who transformed how America eats and enjoys food” (left). Clear Flour staffers with their muse: Theresa Louis, head pastry chef (from left), Inga Sheasser, general manager, Pépin, and owners Christy Timon and Abe Faber (right).

Child died in 2004. During a brief question and answer period, Pépin was asked to share a story about his towering, jovial partner in crime, with whom he shared the PBS screen in Julia Child and Jacques Pépin: Cooking in Concert and the Emmy-winning Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home. “I was friends with Julia for 45 years, so there are so many stories,” said Pépin. But he offered one anecdote about Child’s emphatic refusal to meet acolyte Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia, a memoir that was adapted as a major Hollywood film starring a warbling Meryl Streep as Child and Amy Adams as Powell. “She never wanted to meet Julie,” said Pépin. “Julia said to me, ‘She’s a fake.’”

Favorite place to eat: his own kitchen

Happily married for 50 years, Pépin shared his secret for a successful union: “If we don’t agree, we do what she wants.” And his best marriage advice comes, he said, from Napoleon: ”When you know you’re going to lose, volunteer.” His wife is an excellent cook, he said, responding to a question about “his favorite place to eat in the entire United States.” His answer: his own Connecticut kitchen, among his wife, his dogs, and often his granddaughter, who is the next family chef-in-training. Pépin said he began grooming his daughter, Claudine, who as a young woman cooked beside him on a PBS series, when she was very little. “I had her stir the pot,” he said.

Some of the questions involved the craft of his profession. Asked how many knives a serious cook needs, Pépin responded that you need only 3, although he conceded that he owns about 350. “But the greatest knife of all is the sharp one,” he added.

Pépin began cooking as a child, helping out at his parents’ restaurant in Bourg-en-Bresse, France. He went on to become personal chef to three French presidents, among them Charles de Gaulle. “People joke that I cooked for three presidents, all of them dead,” said Pépin, who was in fine form, clutching a glass of red wine and joking about how cooks used to have very low status, but now “we are all geniuses.” He also mentioned being offered a job as White House chef during the Kennedy administration, but instead took a top position at the Howard Johnson’s chain. Asked why he made that choice, Pépin said he had had no idea that the White House position had such great potential. “On the other hand, at Howard Johnson’s, learning all about the chemistry of food and mass production, I got my real education in American eating habits.”

“There are good reasons why we pair these two celebrations under one umbrella,” Zlateva told the guests, who each paid $150 to attend the gala. “MET was created to help adults advance their educations and expand their opportunities. We pride ourselves on innovation in our programs. Chef Pépin is also an innovator” and a lifelong learner, she said, citing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia University, both earned while he was in his 30s.

Metropolitan College has more than 20 undergraduate and 40 graduate degree and certificate programs in areas such as biomedical laboratory and clinical sciences, computer science, criminal justice, liberal arts, management, culinary arts, and urban affairs. MET offers more than 60 part-time and full-time degree and certificate programs in the evening, online, and in blended formats.

1 Comments

One Comment on Celebrating MET’s 50th, Gala Toasts Jacques Pépin

  • gerald gover on 11.28.2015 at 12:42 pm

    I love that man. I am 80 and have a number of his books and never missed a program on pbs either with julia and or jacques. I make his recipes especially the bread and I have not purchased local bread for 20 years. I enjoy onions and garlic and make jacques onion soup on a cold day. I live in quebec where the winters are cold with plenty of snow which I enjoy. I guess that is what keeps me young at heart. Keep cooking jacques and god bless you and your family, regards.

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