Alumni Profiles

Jacques Pépin, GS'70, GSAS'72

French/Romance Phil
Job Title: 
Grad Year: 
School of General Studies

Please briefly describe your current position in more detail, including your responsibilities and job tasks:

I am currently writing cookbooks, taping PBS-TV series, making appearances at food festivals around the country, doing demonstrations at various food events, and teaching at The French Culinary Institute in New York City and at Boston University.

Please briefly describe your career path, including the reasons behind job changes, since graduating from Columbia University:

My career has never deviated from its beginnings. From the time when I was 13 years old and became an apprentice, I have been in the culinary field. During and after my time at Columbia, from 1959 to 1972, I continued on the same career path and I'm still at it today.

How did your experiences at Columbia University (e.g., academic studies, extra-curricular activities, student groups) prepare you for your career?

My experiences at Columbia did not prepare me specifically for my career in the food world. However, they greatly improved my performance in my field and elevated my work to another level. I went into teaching, writing, lecturing, and television. I never could have done any of these things as well without my experiences at Columbia.

What job resources (internships, summer opportunities, work experiences, or individuals) have influenced your career choice(s)?

Certainly, my mother was a great influence in my career and, afterwards, my experience in Paris deepened my knowledge of the work. After coming to the USA in 1959, I met people like Pierre Franey, chef, New York Times columnist, and author of the "60 Minute Gourmet" books; Craig Claiborne, NYT food editor; Helen McCully, "House Beautiful" magazine editor and cookbook author; and, of course, Julia Child. They all influenced and helped my career.

What advice would you give to a Columbia student or graduate interested in your field?

I would advise anyone interested in the food industry to finish their studies before getting into the field, because education will open more doors. Also, the food world is vast and possible career paths include writing books, articles and criticism and photographing for media, including online publications. It includes work in hotel or restaurant kitchens, dining rooms, or in food chains, such as Wendy's or McDonald's. It encompasses import, export, supermarkets, farming, fishing, foraging, and agriculture in general. All of these jobs have one thing in common: food. So, someone who doesn't know which part of the field to get into should start with actual training in food, which will be relevant and important for any aspect of the field.