When culinary icon Jacques Pépin is honored at a gala Friday by the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival, it acknowledges a career that mirrors so many of the changes in the food world.
When he first arrived in New York from France he thought he’d stay a few years and then return home. He wasn’t seeking political or religious freedom or even a better world. He wanted to see the New World. But when he took his suitcase off the train from Montreal at Grand Central Station, he felt something special.
That was 50 years ago.
Back then, a professional cook was, while not at the bottom of the social strata, not very high, he said.
“Any good mother would want her daughter to marry a lawyer or a doctor. Anyone but a cook,” Pépin said.
Today chefs have rock star status and those who don’t, aspire to.
“Now I’m a genius,” he laughed.
When he came to America, he went to the grocery and found no shallots, no leeks, no different types of oil or vinegar and one kind of lettuce.
He couldn’t even find fresh mushrooms. He asked where they were and a clerk sent him to an aisle with cans on the shelf. He had to go to a specialty store to get a white button mushroom.
Today, where selection and food are concerned, the world is your oyster and you can find those anywhere, too.
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