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Interview with Anne-Sophie Pic
ANNE-SOPHIE PIC - the only female chef in France to helm a three Michelin-starred restaurant - was born to be a chef, although it took her awhile to heed her life’s calling.
After all, she comes from a long tradition of French chefs, dating back to her grandfather Andre Pic, who was one of the first chefs to earn three Michelin stars for the family’s restaurant Maison Pic in Valence, when the guide started rating restaurants in the early 1930s.
Her family also had a history of losing and regaining stars. Andre Pic lost his third and second star after WWII due to ill health, and it took his son Jacques - Anne-Sophie’s father - until 1973 to earn back all three. Before his sudden death in 1992, Anne-Sophie had been overseas studying business management but decided that she wanted to return home and train under her father. She only had three months with him when he died of a heart attack.
The young Anne-Sophie did not immediately take over the kitchen, but helped to run the restaurant instead, while her brother Alain did the cooking. By 1995, the restaurant had lost its third star, which sparked her return to the kitchen. She took control of the restaurant in 1997 and 10 years later, the restaurant had returned to its three-starred glory, where it has stayed ever since.
Now 50, Chef Pic - the unassuming, humble owner of Maison Pic - and her husband David Sinapian, have restaurants in Lausanne, Paris, London and now Singapore, where the much-awaited La Dame de Pic serves its first meal on July 5 at the newlyrefurbished Raffles Hotel, prior to its official opening on August 1.
What can diners expect at your restaurant? Will it be similar to your other restaurants in Europe?
In the beginning, it will be my signature dishes, but I am working very hard to capture the spirit of Singapore in my cuisine here. Because I do not only want to make French cuisine, that is why I am spending a lot of time to learn more about local ingredients. My chef, who has been cooking with me in Valence for many years, has already been in Singapore for eight months and has been going to the markets here. Eventually, I hope to use more local products than imported ones because it’s very important to me to represent the place that we are in. For example, we have had a restaurant in London for two years and now I really feel that we have given the cuisine there an English twist. So I want to achieve the same in Singapore.
How would you describe your cuisine?
I know there is no feminine or masculine cuisine, but my cuisine is very feminine because I put a lot of my intuition, my feelings, into it. I want to show in a certain way how the ingredients come together and give them some emotion. Most people think that French food is very lactic - using a lot of cream, butter and milk - of course I use them but most of the time I make infusions to show that flavour is not just about fat, it can be very light.
How is it different from the way your grandfather and father cooked at Maison Pic?
Completely different. You can say that because of our three generations of tradition I should continue to do the same. I am a part of my grandfather and father in that they have passed their ideas on to me but I still follow my own way. My father did the same with his father, he changed the cuisine. For example, my grandfather did not do plating - at the time you have a big fish and you share. It was my father who introduced plating in the restaurant - so it’s not that old a practice in France. I remember my mother telling me to just follow some recipes but I have to find my own way. When I was 22, my husband and I had the chance to visit Asia, especially Japan, and I fell in love with Asian ingredients. So I tried to learn more about them - not to cook Asian cuisine but to understand the ingredients and how to use them in French cuisine.
You have achieved so much as a female chef - the only one in France with three Michelin stars since 2007, and in 2011 you were the first to receive the World’s Best Female Chef from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards.
Well, I am not the first three-starred chef in France, because in the 1930s there was Eugenie Brazier of La Mère Brazier who was the first woman to get three stars around the same time as my grandfather.
There have been three women who had two or three stars but it was 50 years with no woman with three stars, and I was the first since then. I know it is not for life, and it is a hard slog every day. But I think the awards show that women (are playing a greater role in the kitchen) and we need more of them in this industry. It’s good to have men and women working together with different skills. We are not competitors, we belong to the same community with the same goal - to make people happy with what we cook every day.
The World’s Best Female Chef award has been criticised by women chefs who feel that there should not be a differentiation between male and female chefs.
In 2011 when I was the first to get the award, it was a time when it was useful to have this kind of differentiation because not many people knew about women in the chef industry. It allowed for more women chefs to be recognised and for this reason I was happy to receive the prize. But now, because there is more gender neutrality in kitchens I’m not sure if we need to continue to have an award like this. Because if we still make the differentiation then there will not be gender equality. But I don’t think they should get rid of the award - they need to change the way it is done.
Did your father want you to be a chef?
He did ask me many times, so I think he really wanted me to be a chef but at the same time he did say that it was a difficult time to be a woman in the kitchen. But he knew that I wanted to be a chef because I told him that I wanted to come back and learn from him and we stayed together for three months before he passed away. But while he was not able to guide me, I had something stronger than all the techniques that I could learn - he taught me my palate. Since I was a child we always tasted things together and he was very precise with taste so he taught me very well.
What are some of the lessons you learned since you took over the family restaurant?
That nothing stays the same. Things can change suddenly, which is what happened to me. You need to rely on your own intuition and not be influenced by others. And also that you cannot do something good alone, you need other people working with you, together.