Chef Anne-Sophie Pic is a heavyweight in the kitchen and very much recognised for it: the fourth female chef ever to win three Michelin stars, she is currently the only female chef in France to hold three Michelin stars and, at present, has a total of 10 stars. Recently in town to present a "surprise" menu at La Dame de Pic, her restaurant in Raffles Hotel Singapore, the 53-year-old talks to us about earning the coveted stars and cooking with citrus fruits.
What do you like about Singapore, at least enough to have a restaurant here?
I have always loved Asia for its diverse, dynamic array of flavours, herbs and spices. I especially enjoy discovering them at the local markets and gardens, where I can explore and learn more about these ingredients. It also gives me the opportunity to absorb the different sights and scents.
I am here in Singapore for a myriad of reasons including the celebration of being awarded our first Michelin star for La Dame de Pic, Raffles Singapore! As it was difficult to visit on a regular basis during the pandemic, it is great to return and connect with my team in person, something that I feel is very important.
La Dame de Pic, Raffles Singapore is my debut in Asia, and the decision to open it in Singapore was completely natural for me with the opportunity being at Raffles Hotel Singapore. Like the heritage hotel, the culinary legacy of my family extends for more than a century. And like this magnificent hotel, we have a shared story to tell and we are always striving for excellence. Additionally, I have fond memories of Raffles Hotel Singapore, where I had the pleasure to stay at when I first visited Singapore over 30 years ago as a university student.
What inspired the surprise menu—why the spotlight on the "aromatic spectrum of citrus fruits"?
I first discovered the enthralling world of extraordinary citrus species 20 years ago and what intrigued me the most was weaving between bitter and sour flavours. The first citrus I worked with was a Menton lemon, where I used both the entire zest and juice to create a silky raised butter. Since then, citrus fruits have never ceased to exert its fascinating taste on me, and it has become indispensable in my creation process.
It was also truly important to enrich my knowledge and fully understand the fascinating world of citrus to play with their large spectrum of flavours. I gained a deep and cultural knowledge thanks to all the time spent in INRA in Corsica, as well as also spending time with Maison Baches, one of my favourite producers in Perpignan in the South of France. This is one of the best places to get citrus fruits and I just love the scents and the tangy flavours.
The Les Agrumes menu at La Dame de Pic, Raffles Singapore that was showcased during my recent visit is a reflection of the work done over the years and I wanted to highlight the complexity of aromas that exists exclusively in citrus fruits. The surprise multi-course menu showcases a series of epicurean delights that spotlight the aromatic citrus spectrum. Each course presents a symphony of unique flavours infused with aromas of a specific citrus fruit, including zesty lemon leaves, fragrant bergamot, tart accents of yuzu, refreshing scents of kaffir lime, prized kabossu, as well as sparkling, fresh scents of cedrat.
Favourite citrus fruit to work with and why?
My favourite citrus to work with besides Menton lemon would be mikan. The options are endless for mikan and that is the beauty of citrus—its fluidity and lasting bitter notes that I enjoy enhancing through the dishes that I present. For example, in my surprise Les Agrumes menu at La Dame de Pic, Raffles Singapore, I associated the flavours and scent of mikan with scallops, but I will also use it in the Christmas Lunch and Dinner menus at La Dame de Pic, Raffles Singapore for my Andoa Chocolate and Mikan dessert.
What is it like to be the the only female chef in France to hold three Michelin stars?
Earning the third Michelin star for our restaurant in Valence marked a very special day for me. Firstly, because it meant that I had reclaimed the third star for the memory of my father—it had been lost in 1995, after his passing. I was proud, happy and, of course, relieved to have been able to have earned such a momentous achievement. Rather than it being an ending, it was more of a beginning for me. It meant that I could continue to create in my own way, and it gave me a sense of freedom. As a woman, I believe it is important to continuously support and inspire woman in the gastronomic world.
Did you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself in the kitchen as a woman in a viciously male- dominated industry?
It required a lot of conviction, perseverance and faith to make a name for myself as a self-taught woman in a decidedly male-dominated field. If the world is constantly evolving in a positive way, there is still a lot of work to be done towards the recognition of women's work in the kitchen. Not too long ago, women were excluded from the professional kitchen, with men dominating the culinary scene.
Today, I am pleased to witness women have their place in the culinary world, so they can also live up to their commitment, show tenacity, endurance, concentration, as well as sensitivity and humility. Ultimately, I believe in the strength of having a balanced team, complementarity. Men and women bring different skills in a team, with different competencies and sensitivity regardless of gender. From my perspective, sharing and communication are key elements to success.
You've regained and gained multiple Michelin stars for your multiple restaurants. What goes into the makings of a first-rate restaurant?
In my opinion, the main goal of a chef is first and foremost to incite an emotion, to generate envy, curiosity, and in some cases, to leave a memorial imprint. To be able to allow guests to locate a culinary universe with the discovery of new feelings and sensations is a fantastic gift. Writing one’s emotions into a dish, to give happiness to people creates a feeling of satisfaction within.
My objective is to surprise my guests by always pushing the dining experience further. What gets me up in the morning is the quest for harmony. For example, I recently worked with Paz Levinson, my executive sommelier, around a different approach of the pairings to fulfil the dining experience. I wanted to develop aromatic dialogues between products or dishes right down to the type of beverages served.
What inspires the menus at your restaurants and how do you differentiate them from one another?
I am always inspired by produce, flavours, techniques and cultures that are unique to each locale and strive to incorporate these elements in my menu across my restaurants. However, my culinary philosophy of aromatic complexity, powerful combinations of flavours and tastes that evoke emotions remain the core of all our concepts and creations.
What sort of experience can one expect at La Dame de Pic?
The experience I want to evoke in guests would be a string of emotions, to generate curiosity and create a special memory token. For guests to be captivated by the culinary universe and be wowed with new feelings of discovery. The guest experience is not only about the culinary creations presented, but it should also encompass the service excellence, the timeless elegance imparted through the décor and the sense of place. These various elements stitch up a story from the moment a guest walks in.
One of the dishes on the surprise menu was matcha pasta in the shape of berlingots. Why matcha and why were you inspired by these hard sweets?
I wanted to create a pasta with a unique flavour, colour and shape that would be reminiscent of the regional ravioli de Romans, a pasta made using Comté, milk curd and parsley. My inspirations for these berlingots were the candies of the same name that I loved as a child.
The bitterness of matcha tea is not simple to tame! It's a flavour that I like because of its length in the mouth and the attention it requires while the acid flatters and then quickly disappears. The innovation of this dish lies in the shape of the berlingot, which guarantees a good balance between the quantities of pasta and filling, and yields a soft, creamy and very gourmet filling. It can be paired with many different flavours depending on the season, the region, and my inspiration.