With the rise of social media and review sites such as Tripadvisor – which allow anyone and everyone to be a restaurant critic – the role of the Michelin guide has evolved in recent years. There is no denying though, that it remains a faithful handbook for restaurant lovers across the globe. One woman whose name is synonymous with Michelin is French chef Anne-Sophie Pic - best known for regaining three stars for her father’s restaurant Maison Pic and at the time being only the fourth woman to have received this most elusive of culinary honours.
Pic was born in Valence in 1969, the daughter of chef Jacques Pic, who had been awarded three Michelin stars for the family’s restaurant Maison Pic. Despite coming from a long line of chefs, Pic initially had no interest in joining the family business, instead travelling overseas to work for luxury brands including Cartier and Moet & Chandon. Aged 23, she began to realise the importance of continuing her family’s legacy and returned to Maison Pic to train under her father as a chef. Tragically, Jacques died three months later and Pic moved to working at the front of the house. In 1995, the restaurant lost its third Michelin star, incentivising Pic to get back in the kitchen and in 2007, her hard work paid off when she regained Maison Pic's three Michelin stars.
She has since gone on to open a number of restaurants around the world, including La Dame de Pic in London, and it is this sheer ambition, drive and dedication to perfectionism that shines through in our chat with her.
Below, we chat to Pic about how she has handled the Coronavirus pandemic, her favourite kitchen gadget and why you might spot her out foraging on your next trip to France.
When did you first know you wanted to become a chef?
I come from a family of chefs, from several generations back, starting with my great-grandmother who opened my family’s first restaurant, L’Auberge du Pin, over 100 years ago. It was soon after taken over by my grandfather, Andre, who in 1934 achieved three Michelin Stars and moved the restaurant to a new location in Valence, Maison Pic. Eventually my father took over the restaurant and in time achieved three Michelin stars for the restaurant himself. When I was a teenager I had no intention of joining the family business. We used to live in an apartment above the kitchen where I could hear my father working. I loved the atmosphere but I didn’t think it was right for me at the time so instead I went to business school. Eventually I realised my calling and how important it was to pursue the family business, so I returned home to begin my apprenticeship in the kitchen.
Who was your inspiration or early mentor when it came to cooking?
My biggest mentor and inspiration was always my father.
What do you think the key to good cookery is?
Creativity! Creation is my favourite part of what I do. I get huge pleasure out of trying to intensify the qualities of a given product. There is a very modest side to cooking because we have such wonderful produce and we just try to put it together in a way that brings out its magic.
Which female chefs have inspired you in your career?
Nadia Santini [an Italian chef best known for her restaurant Dal Pescatore]. Her history is very similar to mine – she’s a three Michelin star female chef, having a culinary style full of emotion.
How have you managed through the pandemic?
Our main objective was to stay positive and dynamic during this period. I really took the time to step back and focus on the ‘experience’ of our restaurants – building a real sensorial journey combing food and beverages. I also had the time to work even more on our building our network of local suppliers. I have always had the ambition to be able to source exotic produce in France. On the other hand, it was important for me to keep connected with our teams and with our valued clients, to find ways to let them enjoy the experience during the lockdown. From this, came our new concepts: Pic&GO (a take away service) and Pic Up Truck (a burger food truck). But I have to admit we were privileged, as the French government helped the most impacted sectors as much as possible.
Anne-Sophie's quick bites
If you could give someone just starting out some words of wisdom, what would they be?
I would tell them to believe in themselves, to follow their dreams and intuition.
What is your favourite ingredient or flavour?
It’s impossible to pick just one! But I have to say I have a certain passion for aromatic plants. Of course, coffee and tea are always very important in my culinary universe.
Describe your cooking style in three words
Aromatic complexity, subtle and powerful - ok, that's four!
What is your favourite cooking gadget?
The Rotovap (distiller) is one of my favourites – sommeliers as much as cooks can use this tool to extract the essence of products and play with their aromatics.
What is your favourite thing to cook at home?
The classic French ‘Poulet du Dimanche’ – I like to use tarragon in my recipe.
What is your favourite London or UK restaurant?
I don’t think I can choose. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic I haven’t been able to visit as much as I would like in the past year but I look forward to coming back soon. One of my last experiences was at the table of Clare Smyth, I was so pleased to see her receiving the third Michelin Star.
Where is your favourite foodie destination?
Asia of course! My passion for Japanese products and gastronomy is no secret but I also have a real affinity for the dynamism of Singapore – a gastronomic hub that mixes local and international influences. Visiting the local markets there was a great source of inspiration for my restaurants.
What is your guilty food pleasure?
Chocolate! I was raised with its delicacy as Valrhona is not so far from my restaurant in Valence. I can still remember the smell of the factory as a child!
How do you like to relax?
Foraging and picking ingredients out in the wild with my family is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable activities for me. It is resourceful and has an added value for my cooking. It’s an activity that truly unites pleasure and work for me.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
A perfumer – to create my own fragrance has always been a dream. I have to admit I was able to include this passion in my cuisine as the approach of my dishes is based heavily on aromatics and scent.
What is your favourite luxury item that you couldn't live without?
My leather notebooks. I always have one with me wherever I go to keep track of my thoughts.
The perfect match
La Dame de Pic's match for Ayala's Le Blanc de Blancs 2013
The dish: Daurenki Caviar (sake rice pudding, rose, jabara)
The Champagne: Ayala Blanc de Blancs 2013 (chosen by director of wine at La Dame de Pic, Jan Konetzki)
Konetzki explains: "A tremendous match with the Ayala Blanc de Blancs 2013 is our Daurenki Caviar Sake rice pudding, rose and jabara. The grainy texture and flavours of the rice are an elegant foil for the saline Caviar flavours and sappy cucumber. The fresh acidity and luxurious perlage of Ayala’s Blanc de Blancs enhance the flavours of the sea. The subtle flavours of this Chardonnay champagne, exclusively from Grand Cru and 1er Cru grapes, show subtle peach, yellow plum, citrusy lemon and lime peel with little floral notes; a perfect complement to the purity of the dish which marks the beginning of our Journey menu."