‘A Painting Is Never Finished’: Legendary Chef Jacques Pépin on His Secret Life as an Artist, and Why He’s Sharing It Now

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At the age of 86, Jack Pepin was tired of writing cookbooks. That’s why his next book on chicken features a selection of chicken-inspired artwork by a renowned French chef, not on how to cook. Gas range.

“I have over 130 illustrations of chickens,” Pepin told Artnet News. “They asked me for a recipe that used it, but I said,” I have 30 recipes. I don’t want to do any more recipes! “

The volume scheduled for this fall from HarperCollins is more in the veins of his 2003 memoirs. apprenticeRevisits important moments in Pepan’s life and career through the lens of preparing his favorite poultry, from collecting eggs as a child to serving as Charles de Gaulle’s personal chef.Will be the title Jack Pepin, Chicken Art: Master Chef Story and Humble Bird Recipe..

“It will be a book of art and painting, but at the same time it will be a book of stories,” Pepin said.

This book isn’t the only one that keeps chefs in Madison, Connecticut busy. Since March 2020, Pepan has shot over 250 cooking instruction videos on his Facebook page. This page is maintained by my daughter Claudin Pepan. And there’s his big exhibition at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Connecticut. Titled “Jack Pepin’s Art,” it features more than 70 works of art created over the last 50 years.

Interior Study (1974). Photo by Thomas Hopkins. “width =” 759 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Interior-Study-24×32-oil-on-canvas-001565-759×1024. jpg 759w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Interior-Study-24×32-oil-on-canvas-001565-222×300.jpg 222w, https://news.artnet. com / app / news-upload / 2021/11 / Interior-Study-24×32-oil-on-canvas-001565-37×50.jpg 37w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11 /Interior-Study-24×32-oil-on-canvas-001565-1423×1920.jpg 1423w “size =” (max-width: 759px) 100vw, 759px “/>

Jack Pepin, Interior study (1974). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.

Pepin devoted himself to cooking from an early age and dropped out of school at the age of 13 to become an apprentice, but it took time for his passion for art to surface. When he moved to the United States in 1959, at the age of 24, he began a 12-year course at Columbia University in New York and made the unusual decision to return to school. However, most of his education, which he completed in the evening after he worked in the kitchen all day, was not related to visual arts.

“In the early 1960s, I took a drawing class at one time and a sculpture class at another. That was about it,” Pepin said. “But at that time, I had a lot of friends who rented a house in Woodstock, NY. It was a kind of art village. We all started to redo furniture, paintings, etc. That probably started. It’s a place. “

The works of the Pepin Museum range from landscapes to abstract compositions. Many show a menu of meals the chef created for family and friends during his 54-year marriage to Gloria Pepin, who died in December 2020 at the age of 83.

ジャック・ペピン、<em> La Boule des Dimanches </ em>(2010). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.  “width =” 778 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/01/Menu-8-11X14-marker-and-pen-on-paper- 778×1024.jpg 778w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/01/Menu-8-11X14-marker-and-pen-on-paper-228×300.jpg 228w, https: // news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/01/Menu-8-11X14-marker-and-pen-on-paper-38×50.jpg 38w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news -upload / 2022/01 / Menu-8-11X14-marker-and-pen-on-paper-1459×1920.jpg 1459w “size =” (max-width: 778px) 100vw, 778px “/></p>
<p class=Jack Pepin, La Boule des Dimanches (2010). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.

In 2015, Pepan began selling his art online. Collectors can choose from original paper or canvas pieces ranging from $ 4,000 to $ 30,000 and signed prints ranging from $ 195 to $ 1,900. (Some of the sales support culinary education and sustainability.) “I didn’t want to do that, but it was more successful than I expected,” Pepin said.

We talked with the chef about two aspects of his creative life and how they are combined.

Why did you come to explain so many menus?

When a guest came to my house, I wrote a menu and started a little explanation. I ended up doing a lot of chickens. Currently, there are about 12 of these menus. Basically that is my life. My daughter Claudin was here yesterday, and she looked back and found one from the age of four when she drew a little chicken with a friend.

How is the food-making approach different from the art-making approach?

I have been in the kitchen for over 70 years and is known for its technology. A good chef must first be a technician. Repeat, repeat, repeat unless it becomes part of the DNA and you need to think about it. I’m not a good technician, so it’s not the case with painting. I still don’t fully understand all the ways to mix one paint with another to change the color.

But if not, there is a similar process. As a professional cook, there is no recipe when you start cooking. I take one ingredient and put it with the other ingredient. It looks like this, so I’ll do it. I test and adjust. Eventually, something like a recipe would catch me, take me somewhere, and stop when I thought it was over.

Similarly, when you start painting, you may know that you’re drawing a landscape or a bunch of flowers, but you don’t know exactly where to go. At some point something like a painting is taken over, and then I react to it. I don’t ask myself either. “Is it good or bad?” It doesn’t matter to me. In a sense, it’s purely a kind of reaction, just like I cook.

Jack Pepin in his studio. Photo by Thomas Hopkins, courtesy of the Stanford Museum and Nature Center.

Jack Pepin in his studio. Photo by Thomas Hopkins, courtesy of the Stanford Museum and Nature Center.

And how do you compare the finished results in the kitchen and studio?

I often draw pictures, but I retouch and retouch them. Sometimes it’s very difficult to stop. In a sense, the painting was never completed, it was just abandoned at some point. And when I see the picture a few years later, I will touch it again.

The food is different. I want to taste the food I made 50 or 60 years ago. I would probably be surprised to cook that way now. But of course, the food is very gone. It disappears and all you have left is memory.

ジャック・ペピン、<em>Patterned blue vase</ em>(2004). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.  “width =” 760 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Patterned-Blue-Vase-18×24-acrylic-on-canvas-001511- 760×1024.jpg 760w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Patterned-Blue-Vase-18×24-acrylic-on-canvas-001511-223×300.jpg 223w, https: // news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Patterned-Blue-Vase-18×24-acrylic-on-canvas-001511-37×50.jpg 37w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news -upload / 2021/11 / Patterned-Blue-Vase-18×24-acrylic-on-canvas-001511.jpg 1390w “size =” (max-width: 760px) 100vw, 760px “/></p>
<p class=Jack Pepin, Patterned blue vase (2004). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.

Looking at cooking as a form of art, how important are the visual elements for making delicious food?

Food has aesthetics, but I haven’t emphasized the presentation, even when I was with Julia Child and other shows on TV. Of course, I like food to look good, but the most important part of food, the essence, is taste.

Are there any foods that you don’t like to draw and aren’t attractive as an artist?

not much! When I draw food, it is often very abstract or stylized. I’m not trying to reproduce things as they are. Above all, I’m looking for emotions, emotions, canvas structures, or quests for color.

My daughter loves my abstract paintings. But they always end up with some kind of buffet table or some kind of picnic. It has something to do with food, even if you don’t notice it. I don’t think I can escape.

ジャック・ペピン、<em> Vivid Buffet </ em>(2021). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.  “width =” 1024 “height =” 770 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Vivid-Buffet-acrylic-on-paper-24×18-1024×770.jpg 1024w , https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Vivid-Buffet-acrylic-on-paper-24×18-300×226.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/ news-upload / 2021/11 / Vivid-Buffet-acrylic-on-paper-24×18-50×38.jpg 50w “size =” (max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/></p>
<p class=Jack Pepin, Vivid buffet (2021). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.

How about your favorite ingredients? Do you think it’s chicken?

It’s called chicken, but after that it’s definitely a flower. Flowers are the perfect transition between abstract painting and representational painting. I did the same with vegetables a little. I made some artichokes and leeks, or some chicken that looks like different kinds of vegetables and fruits. There is always something to bring me back to food. But I draw it the way I feel it rather than I see it.

Do you like drinking a glass of wine at work in an art studio?

Wow, no one has asked me that question. For peace of mind, wine follows. When I’m drawing, it’s the same as when I’m cooking. I’m crazy about it. I listen to music, but I don’t think much about food and wine until the end of the day. I like classical music, modern jazz, and old French songs of Edith Piaf and Yves Montand.

ジャック・ペピン、<em>Apple and chicken</ em>(2020). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.  “width =” 799 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Apple-and-Chicken-11X14-Acrylic-and-pencil-on- paper-799×1024.jpg 799w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Apple-and-Chicken-11X14-Acrylic-and-pencil-on-paper-234×300.jpg 234w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Apple-and-Chicken-11X14-Acrylic-and-pencil-on-paper-39×50.jpg 39w, https://news.artnet .com / app / news-upload / 2021/11 / Apple-and-Chicken-11X14-Acrylic-and-pencil-on-paper-1499×1920.jpg 1499w “size =” (max-width: 799px) 100vw, 799px ” /></p>
<p class=Jack Pepin, Apple and chicken (2020). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.

What skills could you move from the kitchen to the art studio?

I have never really thought about it. You can use knives and brushes in the kitchen with pastries and certain other things. Brushes and spatulas that can be applied to art, I think they have some dexterity.

I have always worked with my own hands. When I was a kid, my mother had a small restaurant and was a cook. My dad was a cabinet maker. The choice was very easy. I was going to be a cabinet maker or a cook.

My house here in Connecticut has four bathrooms, granite, tile and marble, all of which I did myself. I made a mosaic with broken tiles. There is a big stone wall that I made by myself outside. The porch has your own table furniture.

If you were to have a dinner party with a historical artist, who would you invite and what would you make?

Ay yi yi, I don’t know! Probably Picasso. He always fascinated me, the different times he had. I have been to his place in Southern France. And I want Monet or Manet.

[For guests,] I usually try to cook what I like, not what I like. So I’m going to do a little research on Picasso. I’m Spanish, but I live in Southern France. I tried some sort of Mediterranean diet to please him. There is a lot of love when you cook. You can’t cook indifferently. You have to give yourself a lot. Cooking is the purest act of love for your child, grandmother, lover or wife. It’s always giving.

ジャック・ペピン、<em>Tranquilfield</ em>(1999). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.  “width =” 1024 “height =” 780 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Tranquil-Field-26×20-acrylic-on-canvas-001546-1024×780. jpg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/Tranquil-Field-26×20-acrylic-on-canvas-001546-300×228.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet. com / app / news-upload / 2021/11 / Tranquil-Field-26×20-acrylic-on-canvas-001546-50×38.jpg 50w “size =” (max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/></p>
<p class=Jack Pepin, Quiet field (1999). Photo by Thomas Hopkins.

If cooking is the purest act of love, is painting a little more selfish or extravagant? Because you also give the gift to the world.

You do, but painting is not as direct or direct as cooking. I cooked dinner for Picasso like my friends. Last night my friend Reza Yavari was eating here. He’s an Iranian, so I know he loves it, so I put more peppers in it than my palette can usually take. But when I draw, I never think of ways to please someone else. I don’t know what to do. I really paint myself.

“The Artistry of Jacques Pépin” is on display at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center on Scofieldtown Road 39, Stamford, Connecticut, from November 19, 2021 to January 30, 2022.

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