How 87-year-old Jacques Pépin inspired a new generation of cooks during lockdown
Jacques Pepin in his kitchen © Tom Hopkins
In 2019, celebrity chef Jacques Pépin had already been on American television for decades. His lifelong work as a culinary educator and the author of over 30 cookbooks was well known among professionals and home cooks alike.
When the pandemic began, Jacques began making video recipes from his home kitchen, posting them on social media for his fans. In the fall of 2020, the Jacques Pepin Foundation (JPF) Membership was launched to boost revenue streams and provide celebrity chef video recipes for everyone sequestered at home. I spoke to Jennifer Quigley-Harris, membership director at Jacques Pépin Foundation (JPF) to find out more.
Jacques makes tortilla pizza
“In early 2020, the JPF team was planning the JPF Annual Gala, an in-person event in New York City that brings over 200 people together for an evening of fundraising to support our programming. ”Jennifer says. “The event had been sold out since early January, but in March, it became clear that we had to cancel. We realized that we would need to supplement fundraising if we were to continue to distribute funds and grants to our partners for the remainder of the year.”
The Jacques Pépin Foundation supports other locally-based organizations around the U.S. that help people who have found it hard to find and maintain steady employment – either because of homelessness, low literacy, substance abuse or former incarceration. The programs and nonprofits supported by the JPF teach culinary skills to community residents and help graduates of their programs gain employment in the culinary world.
The JPF provides direct funding, offers opportunities to obtain free or discounted kitchen training equipment, and supplies culinary curriculum resources like cookbooks and training videos for these organizations. The Foundation also helps raise awareness nationally about the work of these important community organizations, leveraging Jacques’ name and reputation as one of the most recognized culinary educators of all time.
Many of these culinary training programs operate out of a local food bank or a meals distribution center. The goal is often to help those who are facing food insecurity because of poverty find a longer-term solution to hunger through a workforce training program.
As the pandemic went on, and food insecurity increased in every community and thousands of jobs in the restaurant sector of the food industry completely disappeared, the JPF team knew that the organizations they supported were going to need even more help as they increased basic services to their students, helped alumni find new sources of employment, and demand rose for food and meals for their neighborhood families.
The fifth-anniverary JPF Annual Gala © Ken Goodman
“The popularity of Jacques’ Cooking at Home video series made us realize that lots of people across the country really wanted cooking videos either to help them learn how to cook for the first time or help them expand their recipe collection now that we were all cooking at home,” Jennifer says.
To see the Jacques Pépin Foundation membership website and Jacques’ Cooking at Home video series, go to jp.foundation/members. To build your own membership website with Memberful, go to memberful.com/signup.
“Because we had special relationships with dozens of celebrity chefs that usually attend our Annual Gala, we reached and asked many of them to submit a short cooking video to us as a way to support the work of the Foundation and as a way to pay tribute to Jacques and his decades of video recipe demonstration.”
Video submissions to support the project arrived from nearly every celebrity chef name you can imagine. Jose Andres, Ming Tsai, Rachel Ray, Carla Hall, and Daniel Boulud all submitted cooking videos, many of them also cooking from their home kitchens, and many of them telling personal stories about how they first met Jacques.
Ming Tsai makes shrimp fried rice
The resulting collection became Volume 1 of the Cook with Jacques Pépin & Friends Video Recipe Book, accessible only to those that signed up for a JPF Membership. The JPF membership and its Video Recipe Book launched in Fall of 2020 and every dollar raised from the JPF membership program helps support the JPF’s grants program.
The content-rich material of the Video Recipe Book – which now includes 4 volumes and numbers over 200 videos (new ones added every week) - means JPF members receive their own culinary education, while their donations are going towards helping other people get a career in the food industry.
“That tie-in to our Mission is just magical. It keeps our work at the Foundation, and Jacques’ legacy, at the forefront by offering a culinary education to everyone in their home kitchens, through videos.” says Jennifer.
A membership for a new generation of cooks
Creating an online membership has helped JPF become the globally equitable force it was destined to be. “The direct engagement, and the personal interactions we're able to have with members has expanded our donor base dramatically,” says Jennifer. “Our donors are now a broader swath of people geographically and demographically than they were before.”
Jacques Pepin cooks at home as seen in the JPF Membership Cooking at Home video series
Starting at just $40/year, the JPF Membership is also accessible to younger adults who are more comfortable with online subscriptions and want to know more about cooking and food, and perhaps did not grow up watching Jacques on PBS. But it is also appealing to those that support the JPF at higher levels, either by attending the Galas or providing donations to help support the work with the partner programs.
“The fact that we've been able to broaden the range of people helping us support and become aware of the existence of these training programs, beyond our gala attendees, is huge to us,” Jennifer adds. “It has made our national foundation more equitable; everybody can help. When someone donates $40 to a charitable organization and the organization can multiply that by thousands of members, that's significant.”
The JPF sends out weekly member emails that highlight certain recipes and Jennifer often receives responses ranging from ‘I've lost my password, what do I do?’ all the way to ‘Can you please ask Jacques what the best way is to clean a wooden cutting board?”. She also hears from people directly through the JPF website about the impact Jacques’ work has had on members throughout their lives and how pleased they are to learn about the Foundation and its special membership.
Jacques Pepin with Community Servings © Ken Goodman Photography
“The Foundation didn't always have that kind of regular engagement with donors before. We had a few nights a year where we were interacting with supporters, usually in New York City. With the JPF membership, we are having conversations with people from all over the world. That kind of back-and-forth has been a tremendous benefit and helps inform our messaging and sometimes helps steer the directions we take as an organization,” she says.
Future aims and objectives
What’s on the agenda for 2023 and beyond? The first objective for the future is to keep growing the membership while keeping retention rates high – and the Jacques Pépin Foundation has phenomenal retention rates: “We have one membership tier with 100% retention month after month,” she explains. “I think a lot of it has to do with the content that we're providing but we know from surveys that there are some people who have never even looked at the video recipes. They are members because they just want to support the work of the Foundation.”
The Foundation ran a membership acquisition drive, for the first time, in October 2022 and revenue tripled during that month. The campaign was a membership match supported by celebrity chefs and a few long-time donors. The goal for the match was to gain 100 new members. Over 150 new members signed up, so Membership match campaigns will now be a regular feature leading into the end of the year holiday season.
The second aim for the JPF membership is to involve their grantees more in the Membership. Starting last year, all grantee organizations received complimentary group memberships for 10 as part of their grants package. The JPF has started to include alumni or staff from grantee organizations as contributors to the Video Recipe Book to further deepen the connection between the membership and the culinary programs supported by membership dollars.
Jacques with members of Hot Bread Kitchen in NYC © Eric Vitale
Finally, the foundation really wants to continue to promote the Membership to cultivate and connect with their entire community – the programs they support along with all the donors and members that help keep that support going.
The creation of a community focused on teaching everyone how to prepare a meal and then sit down at the table to share that meal with those that they love has always been at the center of Jacques’ work. He taught generations of professional and home cooks how to become more confident and more skilled in their respective kitchens and what the Foundation is doing now seems to simply be the logical expansion of what he always did: give everyone access to culinary skills – and give them the confidence to get into cooking either as a career or for those you love.
“All of us at the Foundation are proud of the fact that we have created something in the JPF Membership that is encouraging people to come together as a community,” Jennifer concludes. “You don’t even have to cook all the recipes from the Membership because just watching the videos provides a good time,” says Jennifer.
“Maybe you pick up some cooking skills along the way, maybe you learn something about a chef you admire, maybe it becomes a way to spend time with your family. But no matter what, you are making the world a better place and lending your support to help others. Food and a sense of community makes everyone feel good, right?”
To learn more about the Jacques Pépin Foundation and the Cooking at Home video series, go to jp.foundation.
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