Chef Jacques Pépin honored at the Greenwich Wine + Food gala

Jacques Pepin laughed good-naturedly as she pondered an upcoming event to celebrate her lifetime of culinary accomplishments.

“It’s very rewarding in so many ways,” said the celebrity French chef, who has called Madison home for 46 years. “But it tells me I’m old too.”

Pépin is the guest of honor at Greenwich Wine + Food Celebrity Chefs 10th Anniversary Gala on October 7, where he will be celebrated for his decades of culinary contributions. The 86-year-old chef first cultivated his lifelong love for food in his parents’ restaurant and enjoyed a storied career over the past 60 years as a chef to state chefs, restaurateur in New York, educator, author, television personality and artist.

He will be joined at the gala by his friends Michel Nischan, co-founder and president of healthy waveand celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito, along with other guest celebrities. Connecticut’s top chefs will prepare Pepin-inspired meals for tables of 10.

The Jacques Pepin Foundation, which supports free cooking and life skills training through community organizations, will be one of the beneficiaries of the Greenwich Wine + Food events. Pépin, his daughter Claudine and his son-in-law, Rollie Wiesen, launched the organization in 2016, which helps people detached from the labor market to gain confidence, skills and employment in the food industry.

“I thought maybe it would be good to teach people [culinary skills] who have been somewhat disenfranchised through life,” Pépin said, noting that the foundation helps people who have faced issues like incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse or other significant barriers to employment. supports community kitchens across the countryincluding several in Connecticut.

The latest in its long line of accomplishments hits libraries this month. Pépin’s last book, “The Art of Chicken”, is a celebration of his lifelong love for the bird, featuring the chef’s life stories as well as his own artistic projects: dozens of his brilliant and whimsical poultry paintings and drawings. Pépin notes in the introduction that the book talks about his two passions: cooking and painting.

“From the beginning, chickens and eggs have been closely linked to my professional and social life. The uniqueness of chicken is that it fits in and is part of all levels of cuisine in all parts of the world, from very rich to very poor.” he writes. “It’s really universal and essential in every kitchen.”

The book highlights some of Pépin’s favorite chicken and egg dishes, with general descriptions, but no formal recipes.

“I didn’t want to do another cookbook,” the chef said. “When the editor came back to me, they said they wanted recipes…I said OK, I’m going to do narrative recipes. It’s more of a story that you tend to find, rather than a conventional recipe with a list of ingredients.

Those looking for recipes will find a treasure trove of videos at Pepin’s Facebook pageDuring the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Claudine asked him to make some short cooking videos for the social media platform, “simple stuff that comes out of the fridge, freezer, pantry…to show people a simple way of cooking,” he said.

With the help of his friend and longtime photographer, Tom Hopkins, Pépin shot about 300 videos for Facebook, he says. As he cooked and washed the dishes, Hopkins captured the process with both still and handheld cameras. They sometimes turn eight to 12 recipes a day.

The video broadcast was a success. “We had about 300,000 [followers] when we started and now we have 1.5 million,” the chef said.

Pépin has lived on the Connecticut coast for nearly five decades, moving to Madison in 1976 after recovering from a serious car accident that caused him to re-examine his career in the kitchen. Deciding to focus on teaching the culinary arts instead, he and his wife, Gloria, found themselves on the Connecticut coast, halfway between New York and Boston, where he taught at Boston University.

“It’s an easy way to New York and Boston,” he said. “There aren’t many places in the country where you have that kind of convenience.”

It was an “arbitrary decision” to end up in Madison, he said, but he has made it his home, enjoying walks on the beach with his dog and visits to local restaurants. He is known to frequent places like The Clam Castle and Bar Bite in Madison and Taste of China at Clinton, and was a regular at the recently closed The Little Cafe in Branfordwhere chef-owner Roy Ip called him a “great” mentor and friend.

For years, this same community has warmly welcomed Pépin and the impact he has had on the culinary scene. In October 2019, the 85th Day Community Group honored him by unveiling of a bronze bust of the leader at Stone Acres Farm in Stonington, in the midst of an all-day harvest festival and special dinner that evening. And when Gloria Pépin died in December 2020Connecticut restaurateurs, including 85th Day’s Dan Meiser and Bun Lai of the former Miya’s Sushi, paid tribute to him and his friendship in heartfelt messages.

At nearly 87, the chef has no intention of slowing down. As Executive Culinary Director of Oceania Cruises, he and his daughter recently arranged a trip on the cruise line’s Insignia. He’s done quite a bit of painting, he said, adding that he likes to be busy.

The only thing that feeds it every day? “I’m always hungry,” he said.

The Greenwich Wine + Food 10th Anniversary Gala, scheduled for October 7 at Abigail Kirsch in Stamford at the Loading Dock, begins at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception. (A VIP reception with Pepin, Wholesome Wave’s Michel Nischan, Maneet Chauhan, Rocco DiSpirito and Spike Mendelsohn begins at 6 p.m. for special ticket holders.) Tickets start at $1,500 for two cocktail and gala admissions.

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