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VALENCE, France (Reuters Life!) - Anne-Sophie Pic scored a family hat-trick last year when she won three Michelin stars for her Maison Pic restaurant in the south of France, just like her father in 1973 and grandfather in 1934.
But despite her family's gastronomic legacy, going into the kitchen was not part of the original plan for Pic, one of a handful of French females chefs to receive that many stars.
She attended management school and traveled to the United States and Japan, where she met her husband. She changed her mind in 1992, however, joining her father at Maison Pic. He died the same year, and the restaurant automatically lost a star.
In 1997, she took charge of the kitchen with her husband and a decade later she regained that third star, breaking with traditional recipes that use heavy sauces and introducing a variety of subtle tastes and unusual combinations.
Pic, who is also working on a recipe book due out this month, spoke to Reuters recently about cooking.
Q: What do you aim to achieve in cooking?
A: I work on the combination of flavors. When I develop a dish I start with the principal ingredient and then try to imagine what will best underline that ingredient. And to keep it simple, not too complicated.
People talked about the generosity of my father and they referred to the big portions. In cooking, as I see it the portions are smaller but the generosity is in the right touch, in the pleasure of the clients. With a combination of different textures. No nitrogen cooking for me, however, that is too showy.
Q: You use seasonal products?
A: You can't deny the seasons and it is important to use fresh and seasonal products. We just ended the morels, there are still some asparagus. In the time of my father and grandfather they used truffles all year round but these were tinned truffles. I do use truffle towards the end to the year, when it is not yet in season, and those we have preserved ourselves.
My menu changes all the time with the seasons. The summer is a bit poor with tomato, zucchini, bell pepper, artichoke, rhubarb. My preferred seasons are autumn, with mushrooms and game and berries, and spring with the fresh vegetables.
Q: Do you have a favorite ingredient?
A: Maison Pic has always been strong in fish and seafood. I like langoustines, because you can do a lot with it, it is not lobster. I have also been very much into crayfish for a period. They were abundant once in the streams and lakes in the mountains here but that is over due to pollution. I found a supplier in the Vosges region and I kept them in a water tank but Cray fish kill each other. Now I get them daily from abroad.
Q: What is your favorite tool?
A: Apart from knives, because knives are very important and very personal, I am very fond of a special kind of small spoon, it was meant to stir orange juice in the time of my father. We only have two left so I am having them made specially for us now, they are small and perfect to form quenelles.
Everything is important, pots and pans of the right size, small sieves for the sauces. In fact, because we work in small quantities for the dishes a lot of small tools are important.
Fresh peas with Aquitaine caviar, jellied pea broth and onion ice-cream
For the onion fondue (four or more)
1kg spring onions (whites only)
50g lightly salted butter
1tbs olive oil
For the onion sorbet (enough for 20 portions)
1 liter water
90g atomized glucose
8g pink pectogel (pectin)
40g lemon juice
½ zest of half a lemon
1 liter fromage blanc
250g onion fondue
For the pea water
1kg shelled peas
1.5 liter mineral water
100g cooked peas
For the petits pois emulsion
Salt to taste
250g pea water
12g caviar d'Aquitaine
For the onion fondue, shred onions and sweat (covered) in butter and olive oil. Strain and chill. To make the sorbet, assemble the first seven ingredients for the sorbet to make a syrup. Boil, chill, and add the fromage blanc. Combine 30g of this base with 250g onion fondue. Add the pectogel and put in a container to freeze.
For the petits pois, boil the peas till tender. Liquidise with an equal volume of mineral water and some ice cubes. Add seven gelatine leaves dissolved per liter of mixture. Set aside.
To assemble, for each portion pour pea water into a small bowl and add some cooked peas. Leave to set.
Use a spoon to place a portion of sorbet on the jelly. Top with 3g caviar.
Emulsify the pea water with lecithin and coat one side of the jellied pea broth with it.
Reporting by Marcel Michelson; editing by Keith Weir and Miral Fahmy