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Chef Jacques Pepin named inaugural recipient of Julia Child Award

In the pantheon of food, there are certain legendary pairings. Salt and pepper. Mac and cheese. Gin and tonic.

Julia and Jacques.

As in Julia Child and Jacques Pépin, two of the most prominent and charismatic culinary figures in American cookery, to borrow a term from the lexicon of Child, the legendary cookbook author and public television mainstay.

They were friends and colleagues whose names and legacies will be forever intertwined in the minds of many, so it’s only fitting that Pépin — himself a prolific writer, educator and TV cooking instructor — is the first recipient of the Julia Child Award.

The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts announced the honor Thursday evening at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which houses the popular installation of the kitchen from Child’s Cambridge, Mass., home.

Child, who died in 2004, established the foundation in 1995. This year it created the award in her name to recognize someone “who has made a profound and significant difference in the way America cooks, eats and drinks.” Pépin was selected by a panel of people who knew Child: Darra Goldstein, Williams College professor and founding editor of Gastronomica; Russ Parsons, columnist and former food editor at the Los Angeles Times; New England chef Jasper White; Nancy Silverton, co-owner of Osteria Mozza and other restaurants in California and Singapore; and Jim Dodge, director of specialty culinary programs at Bon Appétit Management.

Along with the recognition comes a $50,000 grant that Pépin will give to a food-related nonprofit organization.

[For Jacques Pépin, a cornucopia of cakes]

French native Pépin, 79, will be in Washington on Oct. 22 for the open-to-the-public gala being held in his honor. (The first Smithsonian Food History Weekend is Oct. 22-24.) In a phone interview from his Connecticut home, he reflected on the award, his legacy and his great friend. Edited excerpts:

How do you think Julia would feel about this award?

I think she would be very happy about it. She was always interested in education and teaching. She was always happy to help someone to start, and she did for many young women and men.

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