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Aroma may be important to any chef, but to none so strikingly as Anne-Sophie Pic, the only woman in France to hold a three-Michelin star rating, at La Maison Pic in Valence, and the current crown of a culinary dynasty that stretches back to 1889. Last year in Paris she opened La Dame de Pic, a restaurant for noses first, stomachs second. When diners make their menu choices, they inhale delicate paper strips of perfume to arouse their senses, and enhance the dishes that follow: “For a long time I was interested in the universe of perfume, and I wanted to make a link with my cuisine,” Pic explains. “Finally I met with Philippe Bousseton, the famous perfumer, and I asked him to make a perfume after tasting my cooking. Since I met him it has inspired me; I’ve added more flavours into my dishes, maybe four or five, instead of three or four. I concentrate my flavours much more than before.” So oysters are tinged with lemon verbena and basil yoghurt, or beef with cinnamon leaf and garlic.
Pic (who wears Angéliques Sous la Pluie, a “not so easy to find” scent of angelica, coriander and juniper berries) also notes that the extraction technique of “enfleurage”, in which flowers impart their smell to animal fat, is similar to infusing butter with flavour in a sauce. “It’s funny, we use the same way of catalysing the flavours,” she says, “and it’s very natural.”
This modest woman, who grew up wanting to be a fashion designer, came relatively late to cooking, aged 28, following the death of her father, Jacques. He had been head chef at La Maison Pic, just as his own father, André, was in the 1930s. “During my childhood I lived upstairs from the kitchen, but the only thing I’d do was tasting. My father thought the kitchen was a male place.”
It was a woman, nonetheless, who led the family into the kitchen. Sophie Pic, her great-grandmother, opened L’Auberge du Pin, outside the town of Saint-Péray, in 1889.
“A lot of people respected her, she was a very religious woman, tough at working, she did a lot of things.”
Anne-Sophie continues the tradition: she cooked the gala dinner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (“tense … but a beautiful experience”) and she has just published a book of her recipes, the dishes pellucidly perfect. “To be never satisfied,” she says, “makes you go further.”
‘Le Livre Blanc’ by Anne-Sophie Pic is published by Jacqui Small (£45); Anne-Sophie Pic was in Cannes to launch Electrolux Grand Cuisine