The French American chef has a solo museum exhibition showcasing 50 years of his art.
by Sarah Cascone, January 3, 2022, ArtNet [*]
“At age 86, Jacques Pépin is tired of writing cookbooks. That’s why his next book about chicken won’t be about how to cook it—instead, it will feature a selection of chicken-inspired artworks by the celebrated French chef, who happens to be just as at home behind an easel as he is at a gas range. I have over 130 illustrations painting chickens,” Pépin told Artnet News. “They wanted me to do recipes for it, but I said ‘I have 30 books of recipes. I don’t want to do more recipes!‘”
The volume, due out this fall from Harper Collins, is more in the vein of his 2003 memoir The Apprentice, revisiting pivotal moments in Pépin’s life and career through the lens of preparing his favorite fowl, from collecting eggs as a child to serving as the personal chef for French President Charles de Gaulle. It will be titled ‘Jacques Pépin, Art of the Chicken: A Master Chef’s Stories and Recipes of the Humble Bird.’
It will be a book of art and painting, but at the same time a book of stories,” Pépin said. The book hasn’t been the only thing keeping the chef, who lives in Madison, Connecticut, busy. Since March 2020, Pépin has filmed more than 250 instructional cooking videos for his Facebook page, which is maintained by his daughter, Claudine Pépin. And then there’s his big exhibition at Connecticut’s Stamford Museum and Nature Center. Titled “The Artistry of Jacques Pépin,” it features more than 70 works of art created over the past 50 years.
While Pépin dedicated himself to cooking from childhood, dropping out of school at 13 to pursue an apprenticeship, his passion for making art took time to bubble to the surface. When he moved to the U.S. in 1959, at 24, he made the unusual decision to return to school, beginning 12 years of courses at New York’s Columbia University. But very little of his education—which he completed at night, after working in the kitchen all day—involved the visual arts. One time I took a class in drawing and another one in sculpture, in the early ’60s. That was about it,” Pépin said. “But about that time, I had a bunch of friends who rented a house in Woodstock, New York. It was kind of an artist colony. We all started redoing furniture and painting and one thing or another. That’s probably where it started.”
The works in Pépin’s museum show range from landscapes to abstract compositions. Many are illustrated menus for meals the chef created for family and friends during his 54-year marriage to Gloria Pépin, who died in December 2020 at age 83. In 2015, Pépin began to sell his art online. Collectors can choose from original works on paper or canvas, which range from $4,000 to $30,000, as well as signed prints for $195 to $1,900. (A portion of sales support culinary education and sustainability.) “I didn’t want to do it, but it’s been more successful than I ever would have thought,” Pépin said. We talked with the chef about the two sides of his creative life and how they fit together.”
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