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What you might not know about Jacques Pepin

Restaurant Rewind: A chef, educator, author and early TV star, the relocated Frenchman helped to popularize fine-dining. And then there was his time at Howard Johnson's.

If Mad Men’s Don Draper was trying to impress a prospective client, he may have taken the target to New York City’s cathedral of French cooking, La Pavillon—the 1960s landmark, not the modern reincarnation opened by Daniel Boulud.

There, he would have sampled the fare of a young French chef who’d leave more of an imprint on the American dining scene than mere memories of outstanding meals. By that time, Jacques Pepin was already a culinary star on both sides of the Atlantic, having served as personal chef to France’s Charles De Gaulle before leading the kitchen team at La Pavillon. In modern parlance, we’d have called him a celebrity chef, if not a rock star.

So how did he build on that fame? To the astonishment of many, Pepin took what was essentially the job of corporate chef for the Howard Johnson’s restaurant chain, a mass-market phenom known for its orange roofs, fried clams and ice cream.

It was one of the many curious twists to a culinary career that’s now in its 74th year. At age 88, Pepin is still making appearances in the fine-dining world. Yet many of the young chefs who’ve been unknowingly influenced by the kitchen master may not recognize his name, even though it’s graced some 30 cookbooks and 17 cooking shows. 

This week’s episode of Restaurant Rewind shows why Pepin should not be overlooked by any student of the restaurant business. On the occasion of a tribute to Pepin by one of the educational institutions he helped to found, the podcast delves into the chef’s career and his lasting influence on the business.

Give a listen to learn how a one-time R&D chef for Howard Johnson’s brought fine dining to the masses.

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