By Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
It has been lampooned as a stultifying snapshot of France's most pretentious places to eat - a testosterone-charged arena of stress-ridden alpha males catering to conservative businessmen on expense accounts. But the French Michelin guide, the influential "little red book" of gastronomy, appeared to take a step into the modern age yesterday by awarding its top three-star accolade to the first female chef in more than 50 years.
Anne-Sophie Pic, 37 - a petite, softly spoken and revered chef who has headed the kitchen at La Maison Pic in the south-eastern French town of Valence for more than a decade - is only the fourth woman to win the top award. A specialist in fish, her signature dishes include sea bass caught in coastal waters and steamed over wakame kelp, served with gillardeau oyster bonbons, cucumber chutney and vodka and lemon butter sauce. But although she came late to haute cuisine, the chef, who prefers to mix textures and flavours rather than radically alter ingredients, comes from a gastronomic dynasty. Both her grandfather, famous for his crayfish gratin, and father had three stars in their time.