The day I returned from Valence and Maison Pic, I realised I was a different chef. Never before have I picked up so much in such a short space of time, Anne-Sophie Pics has a very special talent and it shows in her elegant touch and fine attention to detail.
When people back in South Africa ask how my recent trip to France was, I hesitate for a second and wonder which part of my time at Maison Pic do I mention first… Is it the way the kitchen is so efficiently and professionally organised? Is it how accommodating everyone was to me? Is it the amazingly unique concepts they are attempting? Or is it the fantastic food being created?
My answer to the question is always the same…my two week trip was “completely inspiring.”
Anne-Sophie Pic comes from one of the most influential culinary families in France and happens to be the only woman in France -and the world – to hold 3 Michelin stars; quite an achievement for someone who barely raises her voice above a quiet chat. She runs a fantastically organised kitchen which emphasises the importance of vegetables on the menu and in one’s diet; for which she has become very well known for. She recently had a world famous dietician in giving her advice on how to cook healthily while maintaining a 3 Michelin star standard… the outcome was simple, do not mix starch and protein. During my two weeks I never saw pasta being made, never saw potatoes being peeled, rice was non-existent except in one dessert, I saw pastry once but it was with vegetables and I saw deep fried bread crumbs… but that was it!
It took a little while to get used to, but later on I realised that she is very confident in what she does and that she trusts her guests to appreciate what she is doing. After this realization, I had even more admiration for her- especially since I knew I could never get away with something like that in this land of pap and potatoes!
In my two weeks I learned so much…
I learned loads about sous vide cooking, as they had a scientist in the kitchen for the first two days of my stay there.
I also learnt quite a bit about making foams and espumas – hot and cold – in a pressurised siphon system. These 2 techniques aren’t new, they just haven’t been utilised as much by the average chef here, partly due to lack of knowledge and partly due to the financial implications, as the former technique is very pricey.
I spent 3 days in their pastry kitchen with their world champion pastry chef- he won the world cup in 2005 and was awarded the highest honour a chef can achieve, Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 2007… so he was good to say the least! I took a lot from him too; including his clever use of the freezer, unique ingredient combinations and the secret of designing simple desserts which look amazing.
I attended a fantastic wine tasting and was then taken to Hermitage and Crozes Hermitage by their sommelier; this experience really gave me a better understanding of the wine regions in France and particularly the Rhone Valley.
The ingredients I saw were excellent, especially their many varieties of tomatoes and the abundance of speciality cheeses. The Drôme region, where Valence is the capital, is one of the richest regions for produce in France; the area is famous for its excellent black truffles, olive oils, organic vegetables, fruit and walnuts.
I must say that South Africa really is not too far behind when it comes to ingredient quality, we are however behind when it comes to heirloom fruit and vegetables and other unique ingredients.
All in all Anne-Sophie and her husband, David treated me like a king and I will never forget their hospitality and kindness, I only hope I get a chance to return the favour one day.