Anne-Sophie Pic, chef of the restaurant Pic in Valence (in France’s Drome region) has been awarded 3 stars in the 2007 edition of the Michelin Guide. Aged 37, she has received the country’s highest gastronomic distinction and becomes the first female French chef to obtain three stars since Lyon’s Mère Brazier in 1933. Also, for the first time, three generations of chefs have been awarded three stars, after her grandfather André in 1934 and her father Jacques in 1973.
It was in 1992, the year of her father’s death, that Anne-Sophie returned to the family business. Her destiny was predetermined and she took over the kitchens in October 1998. A worthy heir of the name Pic and a self-taught cook, she has assembled a young team that shares her values. Thanks to her husband David Sinapian’s managerial role, she can fully devote herself to cooking and develop her style, which is characterized by pairings of subtle flavours.
In 2004, she published “Au nom du Père” (“Like father, like daughter”), which describes her journey and her gratitude towards her family, particularly her father to whom she dedicates with great emotion this third star.
The year 2006 saw the opening of the bistro “7 by Anne-Sophie-Pic.” A light-hearted tribute to the mythical Route Nationale 7, a highway that crosses France from north to south, it is a sign of the modernity that is sweeping through Maison Pic, a member of the Relais & Châteaux chain.
At the end of 2007, Anne-Sophie Pic will open “SCOOK,” her cooking school, near the Maison Pic to share her passion with a larger audience.
Woman of Taste, Woman of Spirit
If her first name sounds soft and delicate, her last name reveals a stronger character made up of emotions, choices and well-chosen words. This cook born to a prestigious line of chefs understood very early the importance in the modern world of enriching her training by developing the skills required to head a business.
Naturally, Anne-Sophie remembers the special aroma of after school, when the pastry chef would offer her subtle choux à la crème and she would dip into the big copper pots of crayfish that were simmering on the stove. Naturally, her taste developed almost without her knowing it, as a result of her close relationship with her parents, the kitchen and its staff. However, her thirst for discovery at first led her down another path.
By entering the ISG management school, she left her family cocoon to discover the world and business: she travelled from Paris to the United States via Japan, which left its mark on her taste. It was also in Japan that she met her future husband, David Sinapian.
In June 1992, at the age of 23, she returned to Valence and announced to her father that she wanted to devote herself to her real passion.
Jacques Pic therefore assigned her to the kitchen and planned for her to attend hotel school, but fate had other ideas and his death that September turned both of their plans upside-down.
Anne-Sophie stayed only nine months in the kitchen because she hadn’t yet found her place there, and then took care of all the other aspects of managing the family establishment. But she knew that her future lay elsewhere, in the kitchen, like her father.
David, her husband, helped her to work towards that goal.
On a September morning in 1997, with the support of her mother Suzanne and to everyone’s astonishment, Anne-Sophie walked into the kitchen and started her apprenticeship.
Ever since, she has presided over the future of this restaurant, which now has 80 employees. David has for the past several years run the administrative side of the hotel, which was renovated and enlarged in 1997.
Today, surrounded by like-minded people, Anne-Sophie, the cook (as she prefers to call herself), creates, invents and innovates.
A Destiny Shaped by History
La Maison Pic is more than a century old. Four strong personalities have succeeded each other, two women and two men, a real family. A shared history, taste and way of welcoming others with warmth and friendship mark the spirit of La Maison Pic, a spirit that is still as modern as ever.
It all started in 1889, when Sophie Pic opened her café dedicated to authentic regional cooking above the town of Saint-Péray. Over the years l’Auberge du Pin became known throughout the area, and happy hordes of food-lovers came to savour her poultry fricassées, gratins, black puddings and sautéed rabbit, all of which she cooked to perfection.
Around 1920, André Pic, who had spent much of his childhood watching his mother at work in the kitchen, took over the restaurant. After an apprenticeship in some of the region’s best restaurants, as well as in Lyon and Paris, this excellent cook drew customers from all over the region who were happy to make use of their new motorcars. They came from near and far to taste his spit-roasted hare, poularde en vessie (poulard cooked in a pig’s bladder), Richelieu black pudding, lobster in cream sauce or crayfish from Duzon, the nearby river.
In 1934, the Michelin guide rewarded the restaurant Pic with a third star and André Pic understood that he needed to move into another dimension.
In 1936, to live up to his reputation and fully satisfy his customers, he decided to transfer his hotel and restaurant to the heart of Valence and opened his new establishment along the celebrated Nationale 7 highway, which crosses France from north to south.
His son, Jacques, who under the influence of the highway long dreamed of becoming an auto mechanic, brought the restaurant to full maturity. While keeping André’s secrets, Jacques contributed to the emergence of new culinary trends and created an audacious palette of pairings and tastes, with a penchant for sauces and fish.
In 1973, thanks to Jacques and his wife Suzanne, the restaurant regained the three Michelin stars that had been lost during the war and developed an international reputation.
Jacques’ strong personality could of course be felt in the kitchen, just like his high standards, sincerity and humility.
In 1997, it was the turn of Anne-Sophie Pic – the fourth in this line of chefs – to enter the kitchen.
If her cooking had to be summed up in just three words, it would be creativity, lightness and refinement. She also has a particularly feminine simplicity that toys with the quest for perfection and asserts itself with direct flavours. Her soft, even shy, but determined personality reveals itself in her creations, in the profound desire to make others happy and express her feelings through food. She is never sure of herself, thankfully, and so her cooking reflects her temperament.
Everything starts with the product and Anne-Sophie Pic works with fishermen, market gardeners and farmers who provide her with knowledge that she can draw on at will. Her high standards lead her on a constant quest for the precise cooking time and method, the right balance of seasonings – anything that brings out the best in the product. In her mind are a palette of tastes, some memories, a family history and years of thought, which allow her to restore taste, balance and the very essence of the product. Around this she builds stories, contrasting textures, reflections and associations that underline, construct and elaborate.
On her menu are many vegetables, fish that she concocts with fantasy and a few meats. Nothing deconstructed, but a search for the quintessence of taste, precision and simplicity. She likes to bring out the sweetness in vegetables – hence her penchant for chutneys –has a taste for acidity, and can’t resist the charm of evanescence, clouds that temper strength, emulsions that bring roundness and sweetness without ever succumbing to preciousness.
Take the “Small boat langoustine from Loctudy, marinated then roasted a la plancha, creamy green peas, spring onions with minted liquorice.” The creamy green peas reveal themselves bit by bit, with a few spring onions hidden under the peas, and a touch of liquorice tempered by the smooth mousse. There is always a hidden surprise, a touch of acidity, a nuance of colour, the feminine touch, sensual and delicate.
Another example is the “Roasted cushion of milk-fed Velay veal, prune chutney with warm spices, mousseline of ratte potato with lovage,” which plays on the bright sweetness of the lovage.
All the flavours are frank, precise, coming together in new combinations but never blending into each other. Seasoning, tenderness, respect, precision – each of these essential elements comes together to express and create emotions.
The carefully arranged plates are like a blank page on which are sketched a few colours, some volume, a shadow, a feeling. There is always light and simplicity, except in the extravagant desserts conceived with her pastry chef, Philippe Rigollot. He produces incredible, ethereal structures, which are vivid and a little provocative – improbable and irresistible works of architecture. Fruits, herbs, spices and chocolate all have a place in his magnificent creations.
Anne-Sophie Pic, in the family tradition, knows how to be bold and gentle at once: she likes to venture off the beaten path, as long as it feels right. Her aim is always to create an experience that is different, delightful and delicious. This is her way of recording herself in the family history, a way of legitimising her place.
She has thus updated the family classics, starting with the hotel and restaurant in the heart of Valence. There is a courtyard haunted by two linden trees, arcades, shadows that outline the light, and a patio that provides the focal point for the hotel and restaurant.
The hotel is luxurious, calm and soothing – but with a spirit that’s contemporary, chic and occasionally impertinent. Absolute comfort and style come together. Here, you are not at home but in a hotel, and thus are seeking spaces that don’t remind you of home but are different, unexpected and inviting.
Behind the patio’s arcades, a banquette stretches out indefinitely, lined with small tables made of dark wood. In the living rooms giant sofas face each other – Alice would have loved them, for they would look at home in Wonderland. They resurrect the pleasure of languid conversation. Everything here invites you to spend time as a couple or with friends, talking, exchanging ideas and reinventing the world as you sink into the elegant sofas. Graphic bunches of flowers, improbably shaped branches – style is everywhere.
As in an old bourgeois house, successive rooms lit by French windows open onto the patio or the adjacent gardens. Bright colours and “period” furniture provide unexpected notes thanks to their colour and size. Enormous frames without pictures, tables dressed with bursts of light and simplicity, the gentle murmur of conversation, and the discreet presence of the waiters and sommeliers all add to the atmosphere.
The only place that looks onto to the street, but also the patio, is Le 7. Mirroring the Nationale 7, the route of yesterday’s gastro-nomads, this bistro takes all the symbols of the road and reinterprets them in a décor that is baroque and full of humour.
Napoleon III chandeliers, white dishes and red glasses, road signs on the floor, milestones, a bar for quick meals, plexiglass chairs, bistro tables with knobs for hanging your napkin, everything in red, asphalt grey and white under a sky ceiling and in the shade of plane trees photographed in black and white — the atmosphere is lively and chic! A folded map serves as a menu.
Anne-Sophie Pic and David Sinapian have created their own world, one that is full of discoveries.
A Chronology of Anne-Sophie Pic Highlights
1969 Anne-Sophie Pic was born on 12 July
1992 Graduated from the ISG (Institut Supérieur de Gestion), Paris
1992 Anne-Sophie returned to Valence to join the family business
1993 Marriage to David Sinapian
1998 Anne-Sophie and David take over management of Maison Pic
2000 4th star in the Bottin Gourmand
2001 3 “plates” and « Chef of the Year» in Pudlo France
2003 The French state recognizes Anne-Sophie as a “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” (the equivalent of a knighthood)
2004 Publication of
her book “Au nom du Père,” which received the World
2005 Birth of Nathan, son of Anne-Sophie and David
2006 Opening of the bistro "7 par Anne-Sophie Pic"
2006 The Michelin Guide indicates that she is headed for a third star
2006 Louise Pommery – Relais & Châteaux "Woman of the Year Trophy"
2006 "Prix du Chef" at the Gastronomades d’Angoulême festival
2007 4 points and "Chef of the Year" in the Guide Champérard