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How Jacques Pépin made cooking an art: American Masters tribute to legendary chef

Jacques Pépin talking to the camera on American Masters: Chefs Flight
Jacques Pépin talks about his career on American Masters: Chefs Flight

Tonight’s American Masters on PBS looks at the making of legendary TV chef Jacques Pépin — and how he turned cooking from a craft into an art.

The 80-year-old French chef has appeared regularly on television in the US since the late 1980s, with some of his best-known shows being The Complete Pépin, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (with Julia Child), Jacques Pépin: Fast Food My Way, and Essential Pépin.

The PBS episode is part of the network’s American Masters: Chefs Flight series, which also features James Beard, Julia Child and Alice Waters.

The documentary includes interviews with other celebrity chefs, including Anthony Bourdin, and those inspired by Pépin’s cooking.

Also taking part is Pépin’s daughter Claudine, who became a famous face when she started appearing on his shows.

Pépin is known for being a master of his craft, and even turns simple things like preparing meat and cutting vegetables into a thing of beauty.

The way he made cooking an art led to him becoming one of America’s most beloved food icons.

Bourdin says on the show: “If you cook professionally and you watch Jacques Pépin taking apart a chicken or cleaning a fish, there’s a frisson of pleasure.

“Jacques was the first professional out there who was showing you ‘this is the way it’s done, kids’. It’s a beautiful thing to watch…I mean beautiful!”

He also talked about Pépin deciding to bring his daughter Claudine on to his shows, and how it “defied the conventional wisdom” but turned out to be a huge success.

Claudine says: “When my father first asked me to be on the show with him, it was extremely intimidating.

“What my father wanted from me was to ask the questions that hopefully someone at home would have.

“The world got to see me learn, literally, how to cook. So many people said after the first series, ‘oh you knew how to do that’. I’m like ‘no, no I did not!’

“Now I feel like I bring something to the table. I feel like we really work together as opposed to me taking him along for the ride.”

American Masters: Chefs Flight airs Fridays at 9/8c on PBS.

Julian is the editor of Monsters & Critics. He has worked as a journalist for more than ten years, previously as an editor at the world's biggest-selling English language newspaper, The Sun. more

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