Anne-Sophie Pic, the spirit of a dish

An aura of exception surrounds ten-time Michelin-starred chef Anne-Sophie Pic. But this self-taught chef can also reveal her fun and humble side, especially when she admits with a smile that she hasn’t always been able to cook like she can now. Her restaurant, La Maison Pic, is located in Valence, in the same region of France where her great-grandmother founded the Auberge du Pin in 1889, the family’s first establishment.

There’s a lot of green in your cooking. Why is that?

This is a good question. The main reason is that it’s such a pleasure to rediscover this colour every springtime, after missing it through the winter months. For me, the colour green is the spirit of a dish – it can be the only colour on the plate. It represents leaves, and life itself. It’s very much linked to a flavour: herbaceous but cheerful, regenerating.

Could you describe the composition of your dishes in terms of their colours, but also in terms of their textures?

There are several possible approaches, but for me the main thing that gives the dish its raison d’être is the aromatic framework. That creates the story between the ingredients. Then there is the texture, namely how the elements – the ingredients – interact with each other. The cooking also adds something, and finally the presentation gives the dish its character. All of these elements together make the taste and – I hope, we always hope – convey an emotion.

Could you illustrate this reflective process for a dish that is currently on one of your menus?

Perhaps I can talk about one of our signature dishes, the Berlingots, which is exemplary of my cuisine today. I call it ‘Verdeur fondante’ (‘melting greenness’) – my dishes often have a name that sounds like a haiku dedicated to them. It was conceived as a challenge: I wanted to create a cheese-based dumpling in a shape that was a little different from those that I knew or that existed at that time. I was fascinated by the Berlingots, which are sweets from the city of Carpentras in France. And so that dish was born, almost intuitively.

Anne-Sophie Pic was born in Valence, France. The daughter and granddaughter of two major figures in French cuisine, she initially decided not to follow in their footsteps. After working abroad, she returned to La Maison Pic to learn from her father, who sadly passed away a few months later. In 1993, she took over the family business with her husband David Sinapian, ultimately taking over as the restaurant’s chef in 1997. Self-taught, she won back the restaurant’s three Michelin stars. In 2007, she became the only female chef in France to have been awarded three Michelin stars. Today, the Pic Group has restaurants all around the globe.

How do you experiment nowadays? Do you start with specific products or with certain techniques?

When creating a dish, you need both technique and ingredients. The technique allows you to accentuate the ingredient or to transform it, or at least to infuse it. This is a word that I use a lot in my cooking; it’s about bringing another flavour to the ingredient without masking its intrinsic flavour. In other words, you enrich it. And to enrich it, you have to use techniques like infusion, marinating and even baking: there are so many options. Nowadays I use fermentation more than ever before. It’s something I had no real interest in to begin with, since it was a world that I had not yet experienced, but now I am very passionate about exploring it.

Another of your favourite techniques is using a pestle and mortar…

When I start to create an aromatic palette, I need to be reassured of my intuitions. And the fastest way of testing these is by using a pestle and mortar. It allows you to grind the ingredients together, very finely and delicately, first providing a scent and later the entire taste. The pestle and mortar has this absolute power of giving me reassurance by mixing flavours and smells, meaning that I can know if I am on the right path.

What do you mean by ‘the right path’? Is it like a search for perfection?

Well, I am not interested in perfection for its own sake. What interests me more is the path itself, the push beyond what might stop or constrain me, the search for emotions. I need these tools so that I can continue to perceive the emotion that I feel, and this can only be confirmed by the palate.

«I appreciate V-ZUG’s determination to do things well, its pursuit of excellence, and the importance it places on aesthetics.»

Discover our cooktops

You mentioned that you take notes during your visits to producers. Do you feel an immediate need to verify your intuitions in the kitchen?

Understanding each ingredient in a fundamental way is crucial for chefs, and the relationship with the producers is what helps with this understanding. Curiosity is what drives us, what allows us to continue to discover, create, to push our own limits. And then there’s teamwork, too. Collective inquisitiveness and shared efforts are what enable us to advance, overcome setbacks and celebrate successes together.

Is there anything you discovered that you wish you had known earlier?

You can’t work towards the future by living with regrets. I have no regrets about the young woman that I was when I started out on my cooking career. It’s a wonderful feeling when you realise that you are doing the job that you have always dreamt of and that you are more and more passionate about from one day to the next. Because this passion does not fade away – it grows. The advice I would give to all the young women who are starting out in this profession and who have doubts is to trust themselves, because doubt and failure can be the beginning of success. You have to go experience these to succeed – that’s just something you have to accept.

When you are not researching with producers or experimenting in the kitchen, how do you recharge your batteries?

That’s an important topic. Everybody, whatever their profession, needs some breathing space. I think one way is to be inspired by others: artistic environments can recharge your batteries, but even having a meal with one of your favourite colleagues, who is a good friend and for whom you have great affection, will do the trick because you exchange views, you share something. Being curious to discover new cultures is also a source of enrichment and inspiration, of course. It allows us to know where we stand, to know where we are along our own paths.

Do you have a routine that you particularly enjoy?

Yes, there is a ritual that helps me to feel reassured and enter work mode: tea. I can’t do without it. I can’t start the day until I’ve had a cup of tea. But beyond drinking tea – which is very energising for me – there is also the ritual of preparing it, like making sure that the water is at the right temperature, even if this is now done automatically. This ritual is familiar, comforting, and brings me well-being.

Is there a smell you enjoy in particular?

Of course. It is orange blossom, the flower of the Seville orange, that creates neroli for perfumers. I had the opportunity to distil orange blossom in Vallauris not so long ago, and it was incredible. Orange blossom has an extraordinary aroma: it reminds me of two pastries, the pogne valentinoise and the suisse valentinois. The smells and tastes of these were always there throughout my childhood.

Finally, could you tell us when you first encountered V-ZUG?

Our first collaboration with V-ZUG has been reflective of our shared values. Like my own company, V-ZUG started off at a national level and then expanded to international operations. This transition – conducted in a well-considered manner that places human values at the centre – had a significant impact on me. I also appreciate V-ZUG’s determination to do things well, its pursuit of excellence, and the importance it places on aesthetics. Also, the company’s environmental commitment – notably its goal of zero CO2 emissions – is perfectly aligned with my own desire to adapt my cooking to make it more and more environmentally friendly and vegetable-based. V-ZUG’s values are in line with those of the region I come from, Drôme, and my own company.