Anne-Sophie Pic, a pure and touching Chef

Maria Canabal - 07/12/2012

Discrete. Modest. Hard worker. Far from the spotlight, far from the mundane…and always in the kitchen. Maison PIC is 120 years old and Anne-Sophie, who became a Chef by passion, officiates at the Maison with a rare precision. From the kitchen of Chef Pic you will get only perfection.

This “Proust questionnaire for Chefs” interview took place in London, after Anne-Sophie Pic received the award for Veuve Clicquot World's Best Female Chef in 2011. What a revelation! Anne-Sophie Pic, a pure and touching Chef.

Who are you, Anne-Sophie Pic? I am a cook. I am a mother which is an important thing in my life. And I'm in France!

What do you think is your best quality? She hesitates for a long while. I hope kindness. I like to think I have some ethics, a certain way to behave.

Your biggest flaw? I'm never satisfied. I am impatient and I am a perfectionist. A mixture of the three!

The compliment that makes you most happy? When I am complimented on a dish. Someone who is happy with what comes out of my kitchen makes me also very happy. In my private life "I love you mom" makes me melt....

In contrast, what annoys you? Laughs. When clients comment on my dishes with "good as always". This remark is very very well meant, I know! They want to tell me that it’s always delicious, but for me “good as always” is equivalent to saying that there is no evolution to my cooking, that I am standing still, always good but never truly surprising.

The essential qualities of a good Chef? Reshaping life but being true to yourself throughout. Do not follow the tried and true road and just cook like everybody else. Your cooking should reflect your inner being and who you are as a person because they are one and the same. This is the key to true harmony.

Your favourite food? That’s a difficult question to answer. Early in my career I liked some things but over time my tastes have changed. Today I can say I like a zesty, sour taste and I like to play with this taste in the kitchen.

Your favourite beverage? My favorite beverage is, at the moment, Beet coffee. I find the balance of sweet and sour very nice. The food you do not like? Andouillette (tripe sausage). It's psychological and all in my head! The cooking experiment that is simply irresistible to you? Cooking with chocolate. I have tried to cook this with asparagus and white truffle. I have, however, not found the right balance. Yes, it's a failure. Maybe I should try it with cocoa, it has more bitterness. The “meat” that you use the most? Turbot. I simply adore this fish and think it is the most wonderful of all. Its texture is unique. I cook it in so many different ways – more than any other fish!

What do you use frozen? Fruit purees for sorbet.

What do you have in your fridge at home? Eggs, yogurt, bread, in fact, there are many things for my son Nathan’s meals! Ham, vegetables, fruits. Some pickles. Mustard. Salted and unsalted butter. For breakfast Nathan likes salted butter.

An every day dish? Asparagus. Quiche Lorraine with Savora mustard. Gratin dauphinois (scalloped potatoes) that my father taught me to make. A stew on a Sunday night. I like dishes that are shared.

Your favorite ingredient? Anise. It is sublime with “Pigeon with vegetables”. Or with pickled cucumbers. A dish almost impossible to ruin? Gratin dauphinois.

Something you are sure about in the cooking world? For me the kitchen is an alchemy of tastes. A combination of tastes. The technique is important, of course, and also knowledge. But for me the epitome of cuisine is a combination of tastes. The palate was my education. My father educated me with flavors.

A must in the kitchen? Salt. A multitude of different pans of every shape and size. There never seems to be JUST the right pot or pan for cooking! There are also essential utensils for me in the kitchen: the mandolin - a cooking utensil used for slicing and for cutting juliennes, knives, whisks, spoons. I always travel with my spoons.

Something sexy in the kitchen? The textures in the dishes can be sexy. Tasting is also a pleasure by itself. I also love buttered vegetables. A very thin layer over the vegetables makes them sensuous.

Would you like to be someone else? No. I would not even have wanted to take the place of my father! But I admit that sometimes I wish I had the talent to design clothes, be a stylist, maybe.

A memorable moment? One day my father told me: - "Experience is not shared." It was quite prescient as it was just a few days before his death. I think he meant that we must do it alone. To excel by ones own merits. I believe that he, in turn, had received the same advice from his father.

Who is your favorite Chef? My father, Michel Bras and Thomas Keller.

Any favourite books? Historical novels. Detective stories. I also love Balzac. An address to recommend? 285, avenue Victor-Hugo in Valence. Bursts of laughter.

Why is the name of the restaurant "Maison Pic"? Because it's the family home. In this house I grew up surrounded by the noise of pots and pans clanging, and it is where I perceived countless wonderful food odors. I rarely say "restaurant", I always say "home." Because it's my house and I welcome people, my guests, into my home. In every sense of the word. What is your driving creative force in the kitchen? I focus on combinations, it is, and has always been like this, my dream, my goal and what I desire. I start with a product and wonder where to go from there and where to take it. Always with a lot of freedom and creativity.

A culinary memory? I loved every Wednesday because the restaurant was closed. In everyday life, I was not allowed to play in the garden, or make noise and I saw little of my parents. On Wednesdays, however, the restaurant was mine! Lunch with my parents, under the lime trees, was always a precious moment.

You have received in 2011 the award "Best Female Chef in the World", how do you feel? It is a dream come true. But I also want to keep my perspective. Am I the best female chef in the world?! There are so many wonderful chefs! The award is simply a recognition of women's work and talent. We must not categorize the cuisine of women as that of a mere kitchen hand. There is no difference in the qualifications of a man or a woman in the kitchen. The technique is there for both – used equally and with equal skill. For me it's an award that recognizes the influence of women in the kitchen and the different dimensions that comes with it. In how to manage your team, just to take an example.

Do you think that there is discrimination against female Chefs, there are so few with stars ? There is a problem bridging a gap between the sexes. We women have been, until now, merely just accepted in a true gourmet kitchen – because the men, who are very technical and very “sharp” - “allow” us to be there! Also a male chef who retires would not think to transfer his knowledge to his daughter for example! Any final words to wrap-up? The kitchen is an open mind. Cooking is love, cooking is people. That’s how I feel. My father always told me he had to give happiness to others. Simply put, we do this job because we love others. I will never forget his words.

Maria Canabal

Credit Photo: Jeff Nalin


Posted by Maria Canabal, a food, travel and lifestyle journalist who lives in Paris, Madrid and Copenhagen. Columnist at Monocle and contributor to Apicius, Gourmet and Gastronomad, she lived and worked in Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Since 2010, Maria Canabal is member of the jury for the tittle of BEST SOMMELIER of SPAIN and earned the Literature Award “St. John” in 2011.

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