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Anne-Sophie Pic on What’s Next for the World’s Best Female Chef

She may have 11 Michelin stars to her name, but the famed French chef shows no sign of slowing down.

By Ellys Woodhouse

She may only be in London for a couple of days, but the way Anne-Sophie Pic describes her plans for her time in the city – chatting to the Spa Terminus traders in Bermondsey, picking through Postcard Tea shops or sampling Prufrock Coffee – is the same as when she speaks about foraging back home in the Rhone Valley in France, or sourcing ingredients in the mountains in Switzerland

Despite Pic’s long global culinary reach – one that has spanned half a dozen countries and three continents – in every establishment, she becomes equally inspired by her new home, its lands and its goods, as she is from her 30 years in classical French cuisine. “You have to be focused on the terroir, where we are implemented, each time starting with curiosity; visiting some producers, having in mind finally, the culture of the country where we are.” 

Pic is visiting the UK capital ready for the launch of the summer menu at her London outpost, La Dame de Pic, found in Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square. Under the watchful eye of chef de cuisine Evens López, her team of chefs is busy prepping the bounty of British produce that Pic has scoured and sourced during her visit; Cornish pollock with an accompanying cocktail of gyokuro tea and Islay peated whiskey, Scottish crab with ribbons of melon topped with fresh agastache flowers, St Jude cheese served with stout brewed in Liverpool.  

“I try really to catch the spirit of this beautiful city that’s full of energy,” she tells me ahead of the dinner, sitting in the La Dame’s beautiful art-deco dining room. “But also in return, I give my French energy.”

In her 30-year career, that instinctive drive, intuitive nature and curious spirit – sparked by that so-called French energy – has taken Pic’s brand across continents and around the world, sweeping awards and accolades like a magnet along the way; ultimately earning Pic the title of the most decorated female chef in the world.

[See also: Luke Selby on his Homecoming to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons]

Anne-Sophie Pic’s two-Michelin-starred La Dame de Pic in London / ©Four Seasons

Breaking down the work that went into earning that title, Pic holds 11 Michelin stars; two in her restaurant in London and three in her flagship restaurant in her hometown of Valence – making her the only female chef in France to receive the top Michelin prize. La Dame de Pic in Paris, Hong Kong and La Dame de Pic – Le 1920 in Megève each holding a star. In fact, Pic’s Dubai outpost received a star mere weeks after we spoke, and her two-Michelin-starred eponymous restaurant at Hotel Beau-Rivage Palace in Switzerland is set to reopen following renovations in the fall of this year.  

That’s not to mention her partnerships with luxury brands like Dior, which has introduced Pic to Japan, and her book, Suffusion, released last year in France with an English copy on its way in the coming months. Having such a global outreach – and presumably a busy schedule – you have to wonder how Pic can keep an eye on everything. She explains that, rather than outstretching herself across the world, Pic invites each of her executive chefs to Valence to “come into my universe” and regain some of that energy.

“You need curiosity, you need to experience new ways,” she stresses, “And have this relationship that will indicate to the taste and to the emotion.” After learning and recharging under Pic in France, during which there’s no restaurant service so they can remain focused and dedicated to developing new dishes, they return invigorated to their Pic outpost and apply back on their local terror.

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[See also: Mark Donald on Whisky, Foraging and Tattie Scones]

French chef Anne Sophie Pic / ©Johnny Stephens Photography

From speaking with Pic, it’s clear that it always comes back to her hometown in France’s Rhône region, both literally and metaphorically. Valence is not just the town where Pic grew up and kept as a base since, but it is also the site of her family’s restaurant, one that has been in the family for more than a century. Anne-Sophie is the fourth generation Pic to take the helm of the family restaurant, Maison Pic, first opened by her great-grandparents, Eugene and Sophie Pic, in 1889. It passed through the generations, with her grandfather Andre being the first to win three Michelin stars for the establishment.  

While there’s no denying hailing from such a rich bloodline of culinary masters has its benefits –  such as spending weekends and school holidays acting as an additional pair of hands in the kitchen – it also comes with a heavy serving of pressure. Not least because when Pic was just 23 and had returned to the family establishment to begin formal culinary training – following briefly rejecting the family trade to attend business management school – her father and biggest inspiration, Jacques Pic, suddenly passed away. When the restaurant lost its third star in Michelin tradition, Pic was inspired to take control of the kitchen. A decade later in 2007, the third star returned to its pride of place. 

I ask Pic if, despite having almost fourfold the number of stars now attached to the Pic name, she still feels pressure to continue her family’s legacy, through serving their dishes and recipes: “You can respect the way you have been taught, but my family taught me that you cannot take a recipe and not move it, because otherwise it disappears,” she philosophizes. “It did take a lot to change the recipes of my father or my grandfather. But finally, at 40 years old, I decided to really make my own cuisine.” 

[See also: Yannick Alléno on Bringing Pavyllon to London’s Mayfair]

La Dame de Pic is housed inside Four Seasons London Ten Trinity Square / ©Four Seasons

Pic’s reinvention of her heritage is presented daily on plates to diners across the world, but is perhaps showcased best in her trademarked dish (and one of the standouts on La Dame’s summer menu), Les Berlingots ASP; delicate green triangle-shaped pasta parcels, named after the pyramid-shaped French candies, are filled with fudgy Blackmount goat’s cheese, surrounding a jewel-green heritage tomato. 

Navigating these external pressures seems to come as second nature for Pic, but that’s not to say she is numb to feeling it. Yet when I ask if there’s a pressure that comes from her title as the most decorated female chef, her immediate response is to reaffirm her gratitude: “Of course, it’s a pressure, but it’s also something very positive,” she rebuts, flashing a contagious grin. “I feel a responsibility to share my experience because when I was younger I didn’t get so much advice, and it [would have] given me security if I had some advice from a woman. I had [the Italian chef] Nadia Santini, a wonderful woman chef, but there were not so many of us.

“I think if you are a woman and you have a lot of rewards in this industry, you have to show the values you are carrying with these rewards. And also to be very sincere with the woman [who are] asking for some help.” 

[See also: Mauro Colagreco on his Hotly Anticipated London Debut at Raffles]

Four Seasons Ten Trinity’s art-deco bar that sits before La Dame de Pic / ©Four Seasons

It’s that sincerity that shines brightest when speaking with Pic; whether it’s when she’s speaking of her respect towards her father and grandparents, or her grace when speaking about her accolades. And in an industry that has been dominated by loud, braggadocious male egos and alpha male energy, to see Pic’s humility rebut – and be rewarded – is refreshing, not to mention awe-inspiring.

That being said, don’t think that Pic’s humility dulls her ambition; if anything it is enhanced by it. “This is a reward, so we have to ask, do we deserve or do we not deserve it?” she acknowledges, “But for sure to manage a team, if you say to them, ‘It’s enough, you did your job, don’t push’, I think it can be difficult if we want to improve ourselves.”

This mindset is what drives Pic’s next ambition, turning her attention to pushing to gain her second third-Michelin-star establishment in Lausanne, Switzerland, when it reopens later this year. “We don’t want to seem to be too, too ambitious,” remaining characteristically down to Earth, “but it’s very important for the team to have some goals.” Going from Pic’s track record of achieving her goals, I would know where to hedge my bet. 

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