Chef Jacques Pépin Shares a History of His Career and the Importance of Mindfulness in the Kitchen

From left to right: Chef Rico DiFronzo, William H. Weeks, Chef Jacques Pépin, Chef Jean-Claude Szurdak, Dean Arun Upneja

(November 30, 2016) – Yesterday, the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration welcomed acclaimed Chef Jacques Pépin as its first Howard Johnson Executive-in-Residence guest. Chef Pépin was joined by fellow chef and friend Jean-Claude Szurdak and William H. Weeks, the gracious supporter of the Executive-in-Residence program.

Chef Pépin spent the day speaking to School of Hospitality Administration faculty and students, and Metropolitan College graduate students studying Gastronomy. He shared highlights of his celebrated career including his time as a chef to three French heads-of-state before moving to the United States in 1959 to work for Le Pavillion restaurant in New York City, followed by a ten-year career with Howard Johnson hotels.

While at Howard Johnson, he was challenged to develop new recipes that could be produced for large quantities of guests. This new style of cooking led him to test new equipment and cooking styles – he even worked with chemists to understand the molecular science necessary to mass produce high quality meals. This successful learning experience proved to be particularly useful to him in his later ventures; in 1970 he opened a New York City soup restaurant, La Potagerie, and later was hired to launch and run food operations at the World Trade Center commissary.

From left to right: Chef Jacques Pépin, Chef Jean-Claude Szurdak
From left to right: Chef Jacques Pépin, Chef Jean-Claude Szurdak

Eventually, his cooking career led him to both print and television. Despite being trained without cookbooks and formal recipes, he has written over 20 cookbooks, including La Technique, published in 1976, an in-depth catalogue of the most useful culinary techniques that are still relevant today. Many of his television shows were inspired by his cookbooks, including Fast Food My Way which taught viewers to prepare fine foods at home quickly and with fresh ingredients. He also hosted a PBS series The Complete Pépin and Julie and Jacques Cooking at Home with Julia Child.

When asked what dish is his favorite to cook, he shared that if he really had to choose it would be soup, but that it truly depends on when he goes to the market, see’s what is in season, and even the time of day. Laughingly, the chef admitted that nothing could top a well-baked baguette with butter. Before departing, Chef Pépin emphasized the importance of mindfulness in the kitchen whether it’s decreasing food waste or serving an ingredient in its natural state, noting that “knowledge of food can be shown through more than a decoration on the dish.”

The School is grateful to Chef Jacques Pépin, Jean-Claude Szurdak, William H. Weeks, and the staff at BU’s Metropolitan College for their time and effort to coordinate this visit.