The young, petite 45 year old Anne-Sophie Pic is the new face of the house of Pic in Valence, France, one of France’s most celebrated dining destinations since 1889. This third generation power house of a chef took over the reins when her father Jaques Pic passed away unexpectedly just two months into her training in the kitchen. The determined twenty two-year old who had not visualized a career in the family business took up the challenge to save the future and repute of the house and set out to reestablish the family name in a region with other formidable contenders like Bocuse and Troisgros.
Few women in France have confidently broken into the male dominated circle of top chefs in the world and gone on to establish their own empires. Pic with her type A personality and the support of her husband David Sinapian accomplished it as she first regained the lost third star in 2007 becoming the only woman in France with three Michelin stars a distinction she holds since.
In 2011 Pic was awarded the Veuve Cliquot’s Best Female chef of the year at the Restaurant Magazine’s annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Anne-Sophie Pic now has five Michelin stars with two being awarded to her Anne-Sophie Pic restaurant at the Beau Rivage hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland. The La Dame de Pic which expands her universe into Paris has served to establish her stars in the firmament of the city of lights.
The new chapter in the history of Maison Pic under her wing began with a modernization of the interiors with stunning decor and updated kitchens and it's not done yet as she recently opened another restaurant Andre on the premises. Pic’s time spent in the luxury and craft trade prior to joining the family business gave her a keen eye for detail and resulted in what is one of the most spectacular Relais & Chateau listed properties anywhere with a minimalist decor that mixes several periods tastefully.
Glass display cases lined with of hundreds of red Michelin guides from the earliest editions where the Pic name is listed stand next to ultra-modern sleek furnishings in the reception area. The landscaped Mediterranean style gardens set off this immaculate oasis in the heart of the bustling old town with its exquisite food and perfect service.
The gastronomic restaurant with its chic decor and sophisticated cuisine is not her only operation in town as besides the hotel there is brasserie 7, Daily PIC, L'Epicerie, Scook cooking school, and an on line boutique. She has even taken to the skies, preparing luxe meals for the premier class on Air France while her love of Japanese tea led to a partnership with Maki Maruyuma. The matcha enamored chef has a line of five teas for sale to sip while perusing her many cook books.
Understated, intelligent, persevering, somewhat bashful she shared her experience of reinventing her cuisine, her voyage of self-discovery, of gaining confidence and maturing as a person, a chef, and a businesswoman. Pic looks to the future as she says while the lessons of the past must not be forgotten it is imperative to keep moving forward to avoid stagnation in the world of demanding diners who want to be challenged. More than her hard work, talent, and her quest for perfection she credits her exceptional palate and ability to marry tastes, textures, and flavors on the her plates.
The Daily Meal: What is the concept of your La Dame Pic restaurant in Paris?
Sophie Pic: Dame de Pic was designed as a foretaste of my three star gastronomic restaurant and hotel in Valence. The restaurant offers a discovery of my culinary world through less sophisticated dishes in a chic atmosphere.
You have just opened Andre at Maison Pic in Valence. What makes it different from your other restaurants?
Andre is a place rich in history and stories.... The culinary story of four generations of chefs who made a mark in their lifetime and who shared with the world their vision with a lot of generosity and reserve. The menu at Andre, is the story of the Pic family which is being written, told and foremost enjoyed. A story, where each generation knew how to create its own style, demonstrated a lot of creativity and made a first name for themselves, by staying faithful to their family name. It is also a way to unleash the creativity of their gastronomic talent without ignoring what made its glorious past. Andre coexists inside the Maison Pic in Valence with the 3 star restaurant, being a place to express my creativity.
Are you enjoying your new kitchen at Maison Pic in Valence. Since you the designed the space and layout what are your favorite features?
On the ground floor we have the Molteni piano, a unique piece that I imagined which serves as the induction and plancha. It is the centerpiece of the kitchen since it is designed to bring together different cooking stations: toppings, meat, fish and sauces, all in one space. I wanted to encourage exchanges between members of my brigade and this piano plays the role of a collective card.
The cold piano favors short cooking and I defined it as a range of transience since I like to work the magic of the moment. There is also a dedicated training and shipping area at the piano. The circulation spaces between these key areas of the kitchen are deliberately short to focus all the energy.
Any new equipment or gizmos that is not so conventional in restaurant kitchens?
I use the Chemex to create ephemeral sauces.
In your opinion, how many elements should there be in a good dish?
In the beginning I used to think three and then I entered the world of perfumers and my work and my feelings and inspiration were all affected. When you start eating the dish it has to move, all the flavors have to balance. It does not have to be very linear and you should get all the flavors in little increments. There could be four or five different flavors in a sauce, for example if you have matcha tea, bergamot, ginger, the taste of the pasta, the cheese, citrus and all the vegetables. You have to bring out something very deep and light at the same time as strong flavor can overpower everything.
Since you had a long succession to follow, did you have to work even harder to prove yourself?
Yes it is always harder coming from such a background but I think of each generation as a new birth. My grandfather was one of the first chefs in France to get three Michelin stars during the beginning of the French gastronomy as you know it now. When my father came and began working with him it was only one star at that time and he worked step by step to recover the level by adding his own energy and feelings for the cuisine and it's the same for me.
Recently I have decided to have only my own dishes in the house. The reason behind this presentation of menus is because I want people to experiment more and experience more of my own dishes. Some of popular dishes like the sea bass with caviar from my father are not on the menu anymore because it does not fit into my own style of cuisine. Though I love the dish and will put it back sometime in the future. I also have to assume responsibility for my own cuisine.
What do you focus on while creating a dish?
I think I focus mainly on mixing tastes and flavors with one another, combination of flavors is very important in my way of cooking. So I try to work at creating the best sauces because to me sauce is the link between all the elements on a plate. The sauces can be complex with identifiable ingredients with simplicity in the taste. A sauce balances everything and gives the diner emotion. When I think of making a new dish it has to be strong because as I am getting older there is an influence in my cuisine from my maturity. When you begin working you are less confident and even though you have good ideas sometimes you are too shy and don't really elevate the taste enough.
As I got more confident I pushed the taste quotient up on a plate. For me the visual of the plate is as important as the taste. I feel all the senses are involved and linked together and should be balanced. It also requires tasting at every stage, evaluating it sincerely, to be very involved in the process and give it your all.
Are you good at delegating? What qualities do you look for while hiring chefs, cooks, or managers?
I often compare my leadership role to that of a conductor. It is important to develop the autonomy of my teams, grow and do pass on my knowledge. Motivation and passion are essential qualities for this job.
Your restaurants and hotel are very chic, elegant, and beautifully furnished. Are you yourself involved in these decisions of decor and design? What is your favorite piece?
Yes, with my husband David and the Baccarat chandelier is one of my favorite things in the restaurant.
What is a typical day? When does it begin and when do you call it a night?
I arrive at the Maison Pic at 9am with tests in the kitchen or product testing with my teams. At noon, I'm in the kitchen for the service in my gourmet restaurant. The afternoon is devoted to meetings with suppliers, the press and others. I pause between 17 and 18h. Then, the evening service. My day ends at 1am.
You are involved in so many aspects of gastronomy besides cooking with your cooking school, epicerie, restaurants, flight catering, writing books. How do you maintain a balance in your life?
I have not solved all the tensions inherent in the life of a working woman... it's a work of continuous reflection, which grows each day. I'm like all women I like running constantly and the days are too short! But in my professional or personal life, I keep in mind to avoid superficiality, do everything thoroughly. Although there are still failures, give the best of oneself, with sincerity and simplicity, let's not avoid regrets.
What is your favorite family time?
It's the evening dinner with my husband and son.
What makes you happy?
My family and the latest dish I create make me happy.