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The toque fits this lady just fine

Updated: 2013-12-13 07:26
By Xu Junqian in Shanghai ( China Daily)

French media hailed it as revenge served by a princess in the kitchen when, in 2007, Anne Sophie Pic won back the Michelin star lost at her century-old family restaurant after her father, also the chef of the restaurant, passed away in 1994.

But as the only three-Michelin-star female chef in France - and the fourth in history since the influential "little red book" of global gastronomy was introduced in 1990 - the 42-year-old hoped the honor would earn more respect for female chefs in the perpetually "mustached" world of French cuisine.

"I think women should give this job more serenity and sensibility," says the petite and soft-spoken Pic on her first visit to China for the Masters of Food and Wine event held by the Park Hyatt Shanghai hotel.

A chef already festooned with abundant awards and acknowledgements, Pic admits "still being a little bit nervous" for her debut "open kitchen performance" for the Chinese diners, although tickets to her 5,620-yuan per-head five-course dinner have been sold out weeks ahead. The toque fits this lady just fine

She made a last-minute change to her month long prepared menu for the "Shanghai dinner", replacing the original sea bass with the local sea urchins after tasting them the night before at the hotel's restaurant.

"I am a very anxious person, but I want to try to make my kitchen a nice place to work in," says Pic, who remembers hearing nice men like her father shouting in the kitchen downstairs during her childhood, while she stayed at home above.

As much as she wants to make changes to the male-dominated and perhaps more grumpy French kitchen, when talking about femininity in cuisine, Pic tries to blur the differences between male or female chefs.

"It's not really a matter of gender. It's really hard to say that because I am a woman, my cuisine is especially feminine. There are also some male chefs making very feminine cuisines, or vice versa," she says. Instead, she describes her cooking style as "closer to nature, more visual and sensible", resembling women's way of thinking.

"I think most women basically and instinctively cook like a mother, even though it's professional. For me and many other female chefs I have seen, there is always the kind of message in mind once in the kitchen that 'I am cooking for the family'," says the mother of a 7-year-old son, although she adds that the sense of mother hood has been with her long before she had her son.

"I am always thinking of my childhood when I am cooking, probably because that's the souvenir from my father," says the self-taught chef, who first rolled up her sleeves in her father's kitchen at the age of 23. Three months later, her father died and she was pushed to "the front of the house".

Cooking has been the "real passion" in her life, which "summoned" her back to her hometown and the family restaurant after she'd been studying and worked overseas for various companies as a management trainee.

Her passions for food and good management come together-collide really-as her kitchens test the seasoning in every dish.

"It's very important, like a balance for the cuisine," as she puts it, but it generates a lot of waste.

A little plastic spoon will be thrown away after every tasting, and every day about 200 such spoons are used by both Pic and her kitchen team.

She is now running her family business La Maison Pic, which includes a boutique hotel, a cooking school and a casual bistro, and has opened another Michelin starred restaurant in Lausanne, and her first Paris restaurant, LaDame de Pic.

Would she like to have a restaurant in China?

"Why not?" she responds. But there is no timetable for it yet, as there is no hurry.

After all, it took more than one century for the cafe started by Pic's great-grandmother outside the town of Saint-Peray in 1889 to become a stellar restaurant.


 The toque fits this lady just fine

A dish by Anne Sophie Pic, who describes her cooking style as "close to nature, more visual and sensible". Photos provided to China Daily

(China Daily 12/13/2013 page22)