Instead of 80 candles, there were supposed to be 80 cakes – one for every year of exuberant life lived so far by culinary star Jacques Pepin. But when his chef friends caught wind of the concept, more and more of them wanted in. So, if the final dessert tally at the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference is any indication, Pepin is well is on his way to becoming a centenarian.

“There’s 23 to grow on,” said the IACP’s Doug Duda, as he arranged the 103 cakes on a long banquette. “We couldn’t say no.”

Those 23 extra cakes are also a good omen, one of several reasons Pepin’s fans and friends breathed a sigh of relief. The cookbook author and TV chef suffered a minor stroke this month and spent a few days undergoing treatment in a hospital near his Connecticut home. He is expected to make a full recovery, but under the advice of his doctors, he canceled his appearance at Friday’s IACP conference in Washington. Pepin Skyped into the conference, sometimes joined by his daughter, Claudine.

“After 60 years of cooking, I cannot think of a better world or a better life,” Pepin said. “My only sorrow is not to be able to be with you tonight. I love you all.”

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