The audacious journey of Chef Anne-Sophie Pic – the female chef with the most Michelin stars in the world – has led her to open her most daunting venture yet.
Many seasons ago, at Paris Fashion Week, I was dining with friends at a tiny, fashionable restaurant in the 7th Arrondissement. Our evening was regularly punctuated by furious tantrums by the head chef in the adjacent open kitchen (as I said, the place was tiny). He roared at his cooks, abusing them with words and with fists pounded on the work table. Every time an angry outburst occurred, a shocked silence would permeate the restaurant, and then everyone would return to their dinner as if nothing had happened.
For many years, the realm of cooking has been dominated by loud, braggadocious male egos, alpha male energy, and testosterone-soaked kitchens. Ironically, in traditional domestic situations, the kitchen has always belonged to women. Women have hardly had a place in the upper echelons. In 1933, the first female chef to hold three Michelin stars, Eugénie Brazier, broke the mold not only because she was a woman but because she did it twice over; three stars were awarded to both of her restaurants. That didn’t happen again for a long, long time.
In the very exclusive club of decorated female chefs (and it’s a shame we always have to use the qualifier “female” chef, but that is how unbalanced the gender equation has been in the culinary industry), there is one who stands apart. That woman is Chef Anne-Sophie Pic. I meet Chef Anne-Sophie at La Dame de Pic at One&Only One Za'abeel in Dubai – marking her first venture in the region – ahead of its opening for an exclusive first look. Although petite, with fashionable round glasses and swept-back hair, she holds a quiet power. At the center of her gravity is the confidence that comes with being the most awarded female chef in the world.
She holds 10 Michelin stars.
It wasn’t an easy road. Chef Anne-Sophie’s grandfather, Andre, and father, Jacques, were responsible for one of France’s most awarded restaurants and culinary dynasties, Maison Pic in Valence, France. But Chef Anne-Sophie didn’t immediately follow in her family’s footsteps and embarked instead on a career in business. In 1992, she could no longer deny her calling and returned to Valence to learn how to cook from her father. “I always knew it was my destiny,” she shared. “I am coming from a long, long line of chefs. Even though my family was running the business, I really did not feel part of it. I was a woman. At the moment I decided to start, it was still closed to women. ” However, her father's unexpected passing, only three months after her return, thrust her and her brother Alain into the leadership of their family restaurant. It was a struggle. By 1995, the restaurant had lost its coveted third Michelin star. It wasn't until 1998 that Chef Anne-Sophie, alongside her husband David Sinapian, assumed control of Maison Pic. Under their stewardship, the restaurant saw a resurgence in prestige, culminating in the restoration of its third Michelin star in 2007 – a distinction that has continued to grace the establishment in Valence.
Self-taught in a world where technical rigor reigned, Chef Anne-Sophie followed internal guides. “Back in the day, women were not allowed in cooking schools. They closed the profession to men only. The job is very technical, and maybe that is why they thought women shouldn’t do it,” she mused. But as technically skilled as a chef may be, there is something that female chefs tend to have that others don’t: intuition. “You can practice and gain confidence, but moreover, it’s a question of intuition,” Chef Anne-Sophie shared. “You can be technically perfect – a beautiful technician – but you must also have intuition. Feeling. Creativity is another aspect of it. It takes a mix of all that to be a good chef.”
The truest test is always the food, and Chef Anne-Sophie strongly believes that if a chef leads by the heart, it can be tasted in the food. “The best chefs I know are chefs who like to cook at home. They cook every day. They cook by feeling from the heart because they want to make people happy.” She merges all of these principles – technical skill, emotion, intuition, and creativity – into her cooking, resulting in dishes that are as astonishing to look at as they are to eat.
One such emotional resonance is an artisanal spin on a dish from Chef Anne-Sophie’s past. “Les Berlingots is something from my childhood. Very close to Valence, where I’m from, there is a famous dish called Raviole de Roman. It’s a small pasta with cheese and parsley. It is eaten throughout the region. Les Berlingots is the same idea but in a pyramid shape, like the Berlingot candy.”
Another is an interpretation of one of her father’s most famous dishes – sea bass with caviar. “He was the first one in the 70s to put caviar on fish,” she said. “It seems to be quite natural now to pair caviar with something rather than having it alone. But in the 70s, it was a very creative idea. Although, the Michelin inspectors were wondering if it really deserves three stars because it was something very strange back then.” Chef Anne-Sophie placed her own twist on the heritage dish by bringing acidity through with the use of Japanese Jabara lemon, as well as hints of rose and sake. “It gives something different and reinforces each flavor. I made this change, but I think it’s still paying homage to the first sea bass with caviar,” she shared.
A tapestry of vivid colors, floral elements, and brilliant but unexpected flavor pairings dominate her menu and have created a cult following among the global foodie community. For La Dame de Pic in Dubai, Chef Anne-Sophie is curating a menu that brings her signature elements together with touches of influence from the region. “I am importing many products from France, but also exploring local flavors as well,” she explained. “Sumac and pear are so interesting together, and I also discovered that the saffron here is different from [what we have] in France. My father was very fond of spices, especially saffron. It is a spice related to old kitchens; in France, younger generations don’t know saffron so much. It can be paired not only with winter flavors but also spring flavors. There are so many interesting things to do with saffron here. I really want to express myself with spices. We also want to relate Les Berlingot to honey from the country instead of imported honey. And dates! The Medjool dates here are so rich.”
Beyond delighting her Dubai guests with gastronomic surprises and regional twists, the restaurant itself is a departure from what we have seen from Maison Pic. “We want people to feel at ease, but we also want them to have a good experience. We are very aware that the experience is coming from the kitchen, of course, from the taste and the plates. But it’s a question of service also,” she shared. La Dame de Pic has a more approachable look and feel while bringing femininity firmly to the fore. Curvilinear silhouettes and touches of brass and dusky rose pink dominate the dining area, creating a visual feast for the eyes.
Her venture into a more casual concept comes with attention to detail that’s anything but casual. “We want to push more rituals in the dining room,” she said. “That’s the reason why we developed a non-alcoholic program. It’s not so common to pair the food with a non-alcoholic beverage. And I think here, specifically, it’s much more interesting to have this kind of proposal.” But Chef Anne-Sophie isn’t talking about a regular mocktail menu. Instead, patrons can pull up to the bar and sit down for a food and beverage pairing unlike any other. The non-alcoholic menu features extraordinary flavors courtesy of a huge on-site evaporator that distills products down to their essence. These are then infused in a variety of liquids, creating a totally unique proposition. “I think it’s really new, and that pushes the experience much further as it’s a dialogue between food and drinks,” she concludes.
With La Dame de Pic now open inside The Link in One&Only One Za'abeel downtown, guests will be able to experience these treasured, bespoke creations firsthand and, no doubt, will fall in love with the inventive universe crafted by Chef Anne-Sophie. Her journey, while anything but linear, has inspired many well beyond the realm of the culinary arts or the world of destination dining.
Women, who see that she had the courage to break into the closed-off boy’s club of fine dining, constantly come to her and confess their admiration. It’s easy to see why. As she has risen, she has brought many women along with her, and although she experienced imposter syndrome in the past – that inner saboteur that whispers, “you’re not ready for this,” “you’re not good enough,” and “everyone is going to know” – it has ceased to be a voice she hears anymore. She has earned her place in the pantheon of culinary geniuses.
This is why when Chef Anne-Sophie summarized her journey in a single word, she chose the word “Audacious.” While she comes to Dubai – one of the toughest proving grounds for any field but especially in the realm of food – with a skillful team and a heart full of humility and hope for success (and let’s not forget those 10 Michelin stars!), the very fact that she’s here at all says what you need to know about audacity.