Born into a French restaurant dynasty – with the first family restaurant opened by her great-grandmother in 1889 – she initially followed a business career in the outside world. At the age of 23 she returned to Maison Pic (her family’s three starred restaurant) to help manage it, but in a major blow her father, the chef Jacques Pic, died suddenly. Following his loss, the restaurant lost its third star in 1995. Without any formal training, Anne-Sophie took over the kitchen, regaining the restaurant’s third star in 2007 and retaining it ever since. Nowadays, diners have the chance to enjoy her elegant, distinctive food not only in Valence, but also in various restaurants in France and in England at Michelin-starred La Dame de Pic, located in the Four Seasons Hotel in the City of London.
Anne-Sophie Pic grew up at Maison Pic and has happy, vivid memories of her childhood there. “I wouldn’t be in the kitchen now if I didn’t have good memories of my childhood,” she observes. “I was fascinated by what my parents did. They were happy to work in the industry; I could feel that. Of course, they worked a lot -much more than we work now. Naturally, they paid attention to me but everything was concentrated on cooking, on tasting, on hosting, welcoming people – for sure I have this in my blood.” She and her family lived above the main kitchen and the aromas wafted up. “I could smell all the smells – sweet and savoury. I remember the smell of pastry particularly. My father’s chefs would make little choux. I would always had to have one and so would pass by the kitchen” she laughs. “Eating was not just about a necessity to stay alive, it was more than that, it was pleasure – so I always keep pleasure in mind.” At the same time, she was, in fact, a fussy eater as a little girl, with very strong likes and dislikes; “It took me a long time to appreciate oysters, for example. It was only when I was 18 years old that I decided I liked them.”
With her older brother Alain set to take over the family restaurant business, Anne Sophie-Pic studied business and worked abroad, an experience she embraced with open-minded interest. “I had the chance to go to Asia and the States and this enhanced my knowledge, my soul” Three months in Japan were a revelation. “I was 20 years old and it was incredible to discover this world so young, really special.” She was fascinated by Japanese culture and food and keen to explore it. Thinking back to her time there, she laughs at a memory: “You know then, in Japan it was very fashionable to dine in French restaurants there and so my father’s friends wanted to take me to French restaurants, but I wanted to experience Japanese food.” Her father was good friends with Shizuo Tsuji, the founder of the Tsuji Culinary Institute, a man did a huge amount to spread and promote Japanese cuisine among French chefs and an important person in the nouvelle cuisine movement. “I am very close to his daughter, so at weekends I visited them and learned more.”
Anne-Sophie returned to Maison Pic in 1992, working alongside her beloved father, doing front of house and managing the restaurant rather than cooking. Tragically, however, just two months later, he died suddenly and unexpectedly. “It was a difficult time for me,” she says soberly. “I had decided to return to the restaurant before he died – he knew that – and so I continued. It was as if someone was pushing you, but you didn’t know which way to go.” Looking back on this sad, difficult time, she is clear about its impact on both her and her cooking. “It gave me strength because I learnt to listen to my intuition. Because of what had happened I had nobody to guide me. There were some people who helped me, of course. I was not completely alone, but I learnt to follow my intuition more and more.” Reflecting on the achievement of regaining the third Michelin star for Maison Pic, she says thoughtfully. “It was very moving. I wasn’t sure I could achieve it, so when I did it was really great.”