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Jacques Pepin Tribute at the National Arts Club

(post, John Dryzga)

"I don't know this Jacques Pepin you have been talking about for the last hour.  I have never met him."
-From Jacques Pepin's speech at the National Arts Club

A month ago, my computer chirped announcing the arrival of yet another e-mail.  Expecting to discover a new way to make money from google or to learn how acacia berries will change my life, I instead found a welcome surprise.  Sitting in my inbox was an invitation to a Jacques Pepin tribute at the National Arts Club.  Without hesitation, I phoned in my acceptance.

The National Arts Club has been championing the arts, culinary arts included, since 1898.  The National Arts Club resides in a truly unique building in a truly unique Manhattan neighborhood.  The National Arts Club building is the beautiful 19th century Tilden mansion.  This home boasts many incredible details such as a Tiffany glass ceiling in one room.  Entering the building you half feel as if you are about run into  J.P. Morgan or some other old Manhattan luminary.  It comes at no surprise that this building is adorned by countless pieces of exquisite art.  The setting outside the Tilden mansion well suits the interior.  New York's Gramercy Park area is about as tony as it gets.  It consists of four streets surrounding a private park.  Only the residents with views of the park get access to it.  Needless to say, spontaneous soft ball games in the park are rare.

After being locked in mortal combat with my bow tie for what seemed like hours, I finished donning my tuxedo and headed off to the event.  Wearing a tuxedo on public transportation gets you noticed, even in New York.   I entered the National Arts Club and was directed to the cocktail reception.  Jacques was there greeting the guests as they arrived.  The one thing I have to say about Jacques is that he is incredible gracious and generous with his time.  While Jacques was immersed in welcoming the guests, others were running around trying to get the auction items sorted out.  On the auction block was some of Jacques' original art.  Some of the work was done on chefs' jackets which added another level of uniqueness to them.  Along with the art, a nearly complete collection of Jacques' books were to go to the highest bidder.  

Grasping my flute of champagne and wandering through the crowd I noticed many culinary luminaries in attendance.  Scanning the room I spied Sara Moulton, Andre Soltner, Jacques Torres and Alain Sailhac among others.  

Dorothy Hamilton acted as the MC for the actual tribute portion of the evening.  Many speakers paid heartfelt tribute to Jacques, some with heart warming tales, others with some more humorous ones.  Jacques was finally awarded the medal of honor by the National Arts Club, only the second culinarian to be so honored.  Jacques gave a humorous and genuine speech on how much this medal meant to him.  Everyone left the club with a smile, knowing how much Jacques meant to them.