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Jacques Pépin, in Search of Lost Cars and Cuisine

  • August 07, 2022

The car’s mention recalls for Mr. Pépin a day during the Second World War when his family left Lyon in his uncle’s Traction Avant to stay at a farm for a while. “My father was gone in the Resistance,” he says. “That car I still remember as a kid, especially the smell. I always loved the Citroëns because of that.”

Afterward, his parents owned a Panhard, an idiosyncratic machine from a small but respected French manufacturer that would fall into the arms of Citroën in 1965, a decade before offbeat Citroën itself would be swallowed — and, critics argued, homogenized — by Peugeot.

Like many Frenchmen after the Second World War and millions elsewhere, Mr. Pépin was smitten by Citroen’s postwar small car, the Deux Chevaux, which he says was the first car his mother had owned.

“Seventy miles to the gallon, or whatever,” he says. “It didn’t go too fast, but we loved it.”

Mr. Pépin’s distaste for excess — notwithstanding his early detours into rich, labor-intensive foods, such as when he cooked at New York City’s Le Pavillon, a onetime pinnacle of American haute cuisine — informed not just the simpler cooking he’d later champion but many of his vehicle choices when he first hit the American highway. In his memoir, he refers, for instance, to the Volkswagen Beetle that he used to thrash down the Long Island Expressway on his way to visit one of his friends, the New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne, on Long Island’s East End. A Peugeot 404 would figure in his commute to work at the Howard Johnson test kitchen in Rego Park, Queens, where he worked for 10 years.

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