Book Review: ‘Art of the Chicken: A Master Chef’s Paintings, Stories, and Recipes of the Humble Bird’: Painting Wonderful Receips

Book Review: ‘Art of the Chicken: A Master Chef’s Paintings, Stories, and Recipes of the Humble Bird’: Painting Wonderful Receips

A fair portion of my pantry shelves are devoted to cookbooks. One of my favorite French chefs is Jacques Pépin, and I have several of his. He has authored more than 30.

Over the holidays, I was pleasantly surprised to discover  that not only is he a master in the kitchen, but he’s equally comfortable holding a paintbrush. These dual passions complement each other in a beautifully crafted partnership.

For the first time, in “Art of the Chicken: A Master Chef’s Paintings, Stories, and Recipes of the Humble Bird,” readers will get a glimpse into his expertise with acrylics as dozens of his paintings are included in this enchanting volume.

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“Art of the Chicken” by Jacques Pepin features paintings of and recipes for chicken. (Harvest)

Reinvention: The Recipe of Life

At 87, Pépin is ever opening new doors.

This gem is not a cookbook, although there are recipes included. It’s also not a commentary on his artwork, though no doubt readers will enjoy the collection of colorful, often whimsical paintings of what he refers to as “the humble bird”—in other words, the chicken. For those of you familiar with the myriad of breeds, you’ll know how dazzling the plumage can be.

This book, told in his own words, shares the story of that life from his rural roots growing up in Bourg-en-Bresse, France to his eventual move to the United States. where he now calls Connecticut home.

He has had an illustrious culinary career not only in the kitchen but as an author and culinary educator; since 1989, Pépin taught in the Culinary Arts Program at Boston University and served as dean of special programs at the International Culinary Center in New York City. An educated man, he holds a bachelors of arts and a master’s degree from Columbia University in French literature.

He was the personal chef of French President Charles de Gaulle and refused the same job with President John F. Kennedy in the White House. His decision at that time was to instead accept a position with Howard Johnson; he knew what ingredients it took to cook for intimate gatherings and wanted to further his knowledge about preparing food on a much larger scale.

Professional accolades aside, what is most inspiring and intriguing about this collection of prose and paintings is learning about this man’s lifelong relationship to food, family, and friends. He is devoted to all. His generosity of spirit, zest for living, and creative approach to his cooking and his artwork is a satisfying read and a story worth sharing.

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A sampling of paintings by Jacques Pépin in his book, “Art of the Chicken.” (Harvest)

As a boy, Pépin spent many hours roaming the rural French countryside, often tracking down rogue chickens who’d found their way out of barnyards. He learned much about cooking from his mother, who prepared meals simply with the finest ingredients on hand, wasting little and always bringing a smile to those who sat at her table.

From high-end Parisian restaurants and hotels to entertaining neighbors at his home, Pépin savored all his experiences and poured his energies into each new position, bringing his talents as well as his jovial and charming disposition. He relished a good prank.

Partnering with American Chef Julia Child, Pépin made a lasting friendship. Their 1999 PBS Series “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” won a Daytime Emmy Award.

Their culinary chemistry was magical. Together, they invited viewers to share their recipes and cooking methods. But for many, the best part was the end, when the feast was shared and the delights of connecting over fine fare was spirit-lifting.

Dedicated to culinary education, Pépin also created the Jacques Pépin Foundation in 2016.

Pépin’s ‘Humble Bird’

Clucking, scratching, and eventually cooked, Pépin’s fascination with chickens is at the core of this book, whether he’s trussing them or capturing their essence on canvass. Long before modern kitchen gadgets, Pépin was mashing poached chicken breasts through a sieve to create a sublime chicken mousse, or perhaps a quenelle. At a young age, he mastered the art of deboning a chicken in a matter of minutes with a few quick and precise cuts.

He spent hours observing their often-humorous antics, and he gloried in the wealth of dishes that can be created from all their parts—from livers, hearts, and gizzards to the succulent breasts. And then there are the eggs: so many ways to cook these golden orbs.

This isn’t a heavy read for the new year. It won’t tax reader’s sensibilities or cause internal conflict. What it will do, however, is bring a smile to your face as you chuckle over some of his more comical chicken renderings. I suspect some readers will jot down some of his recipes.

But the takeaway, beneath the paintings and the gastronomical delights, is that there are no ends—only a series of new beginnings in our endeavors, whatever they might be. This charming book will take readers into Pépin’s private realm. Written in such a personal and inviting style, it’s like a visit to his home or art studio to share a glass of wine, sparkling conversation, and a simple meal with chicken as its star.

‘Art of the Chicken: A Master Chef’s Paintings, Stories, and Recipes of the Humble Bird’

By Jacques Pépin

Harvest, September 27, 2022

Hardcover: 256 pages

Anita L. Sherman

Anita L. Sherman is an award-winning journalist who has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for local papers and regional publications in Virginia. She now works as a freelance writer and is working on her first novel. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to four, and she resides in Warrenton, Va. She can be reached at

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