11 months ago

July_Aug UK Chef

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Chef Anne-Sophie Pic, France’s foremost and in 2007 the only triple-Michelin awarded female Chef, speaks to me at ease in her native French tongue, with a quiet confidence - a quiet storm of intelligence and sensitivity that belie her 47 years and relatively late entry to the profession. It’s a wisdom seemingly honed from more than just one lifetime of experience - no surprise therefore to learn that in this Chef’s veins runs the blood of three generations of France’s most respected cooks. 4-stellar Generations of 3-stars Far from being smoothly passed the kitchen-baton, Anne- Sophie’s journey as a Chef could be considered more akin to an obstacle course. Her chequered trajectory is now well known thanks to the infamous Netflix documentary that tracked the dramatic story of a family’s culinary fete. Stars gained and lost, family loss, grief and triumph - its an epic and swerving tale peppered with heady highs and tragic lows, including the early passing away of Anne-Sophie’s father still in his 50’s from a cardiac arrest after a particularly gruelling day in the kitchen. Yet the family’s formidable determination shines: to persevere, to regain what was lost - not just in terms of culinary excellence but also a family’s heritage, no more brilliantly than in forth generation Chef Anne-Sophie Pic. A Heavy Mantle? I ask the Chef wether the weight of responsibility of maintaining her family’s revered restaurant is a heavy cross to bear. Anne- Sophie answers with honesty and diplomacy “At the restaurant I need to give more consideration to the history, the past. At my own restaurants it’s true I have more freedom.” The history is indeed a long one: the genealogy of the Pic heritage began even before the turn of the century, with Great- Grand-Ma Sophie serving traditional French dishes at her regional café-restaurant L’Auberge du Pin in Ardèche. “She was a strong woman! A real Protestant, widowed young and who conducted her life with a strong work ethic” says Chef Anne-Sophie of her great grandmother, unintentionally perhaps referring to a family trait. This homely style of “mère-cuisine” of fricasees, gratins and farm produce was refined by her son André, one of the youngest and most gifted ‘sauciers’ in Paris, who returned to the humble eatery and raised it to earn two Michelin stars in 1933 and then a third in 1934. Two years later, André relocated the restaurant to the more accessible Valence, where it became a legendary dining spot loved by locals and the rich and famous alike, from the Agha Khan to Rita Hayworth. There it stands triumphantly to this day. What started as one of the great pioneers of regional French cuisine, that gained and lost stars with the passing of wars and a turbulent history, then evolved to even higher culinary heights by the next generation in line, Chef Jacques Pic (Anne-Sophie’s father) who joined in 1956. Jacques Pic’s talent and hard graft earned it once again its three Michelin stars in 1973. Today it is remodelled afresh: the sheen of three Michelin stars regained yet again by his own daughter, fourthgeneration Chef Anne-Sophie Pic; yet with a fresher, lighter approach that both honours its stellar past and that also has all the contemporary flair and sophistication of Anne-Sophie Pic herself. Formative years Chef Anne-Sophie came late to the pass. Her early years were spent studying hospitality and working in marketing. But this is a chef who claims always to be learning, creating and evolving and for whom there are no delineations - she claims her studies and early jobs taught her valuable lessons that she uses to this very day. “Everything I have done has brought me skills to this point, I am continuously evolving, learning, creating. In my studies, I got to travel, in New York and Tokyo and this was a huge privilege to learn more about the culture of other lands, a different approach. It’s one thing to cook French food but there is much to learn, in terms of techniques of course but also culture of other peoples. I was blessed to have that international perspective from a young age” she explains to me. Her marketing work in Champagne at Moët et Chandon house she credits for giving her an appreciation of craftsmanship. “The process of creation fascinated me at the House. There I discovered the art of creativity and it’s the same artistic approach used in the kitchen. Moreover, there I met a key figure [export director James Guillepain] who asked me about my future plans. It was him who graciously reminded to look at what was already in my hands: that my father was a great Chef, that I had an extraordinary family history and it’s thanks to this outside perspective on my own story that I understood I was actually holding a treasure. One I could shape myself also. Sometimes you don’t see what’s right in front of you! That was an inspiring moment that started me on my path to return to the kitchens of my family line. Early years Anne-Sophie speaks with affection of her father and her early years in that same kitchen. “We were completely immersed in the restaurant! My whole upbringing orbited around the kitchen. I didn’t even play in the 23