Stephanie Curtis / December 2012
Food Arts presents the December 2012 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Anne-Sophie Pic, France’s only Michelin three-starred woman chef. Since assuming the direction of La Maison Pic in Valence in 1997, she has carved out a place for herself at the top of what remains a very male-dominated sphere, adding a refreshing whiff of femininity to the heady world of haute cuisine. With her newly opened Paris restaurant La Dame de Pic, she continues to guide the Pic family’s 123 year old legacy into the 21st century with grace and intelligence. “I remember the sarcastic smiles in the corners of their mouths when I started out,” says Pic about her first encounters with some of France’s great chefs. Her delicate frame, small stature, and gentle questioning smile belie an iron will and relentless determination. Despite a famous name, her rise to the summit was far from a given.
Pic did not originally set out to follow in her predecessors’ footsteps. The Pic saga began with another Sophie, Anne-Sophie’s great-grandmother, whose modest auberge had won a reputation among gastronomes, just a few years after opening in 1891. Sophie’s son André took his mother’s place at the stove in the 1920s, winning three Michelin stars in 1934 and moving to more elegant quarters. André’s son Jacques was next in line, introducing new flavors and winning back the third star in 1973, which had been lost just after the war.
Anne-Sophie, however, enrolled in an international business school that led her to the United States via Japan, where she met David Sinapian, her future husband, and now partner in all Pic enterprises. “After studying management, which allowed me to travel and experience new cultures, I realized that haute cuisine was my passion,” says Pic.
Back in Valence, she announced to her father that she wanted to become a “cook,” a title that she still prefers to that of “chef.” Jacques took her into the kitchen and started mapping his daughter’s future. However, his sudden death in 1992 left the 23 year old Anne-Sophie on her own. She remained just nine months in the kitchen before being relegated to administrative tasks. But she knew her place was behind the stove, and one day in 1997, to the stupefaction of all, she walked back through the kitchen doors and began her apprenticeship, harboring an unuttered pledge to regain the third Michelin star lost after Jacques’ death.
Pic relentlessly forged her own style, while honoring her father’s past. “The first dish that signaled my emancipation,” she recalls, “was my pigeon with walnut crust,” a personal creation that echoed her father’s pigeon Florentine.
A decade later, in 2007, Pic won back the third Michelin star. In 2009 she accepted the challenge of diversifying, taking over the kitchens of Beau Rivage in Lausanne, Switzerland. The opening in mid-September of her Paris restaurant generated an incredible buzz in the French capital. Located just a stone’s throw from the Louvre museum, La Dame de Pic, with post-modern black and white decor and an open kitchen, is built around an ultra feminine theme associating fragrance and food. Before ordering, diners are presented with delicate perfumed tabs by Philippe Bousseton, one “amber-vanilla,” another “sea and flowers,” each corresponding to a different multicourse menu.
“My aim,” she adds, “is to make a cuisine that is feminine and conveys emotion, but without being ‘show off.’” Words that sum up the essence of Anne-Sophie Pic.