Anne-Sophie Pic, one of top five women chefs in the world, is gearing up to take the fickle, competitive world of New York gastronomy by storm when she opens a new restaurant next year.
Named best female chef in 2011 at the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards run by British magazine Restaurant and the only three-star woman chef in France, Pic spoke exclusively to AFP in an interview during a busy stay in New York overseeing her new project.
On the ground floor of a gleaming glass tower at 510 Madison Avenue she will open a MetCafe and on the second floor, a New York branch of "Dame de Pic" which opened in Paris two years ago.
"It will be a gastronomic restaurant with 50 covers, between a chic bistro and a three-star restaurant," the 45-year-old told AFP in the empty space, bathed in light with high ceilings.
"It pleases me a lot. It's new, everything has to be built, it's the magnificent side of the project," she said in jeans, sneakers and a white shirt, her hair swept back in a neat little bun.
Rents for this kind of space in this neighborhood start at around $50,000 a month and the venture is not without risk in a city, with thousands of restaurants where fashions come and go.
Some great French chefs have come a cropper. Only last week was celebrity French chef Daniel Boulud downgraded, losing the third star he won in 2010 from the prestigious Michelin guide.
Polite, modest and respectful, Pic lets out a laugh.
"I am not coming into conquer territory! I'm aware that New York is a magical place, but difficult. My approach in coming here is to be humble," she said.
She speaks English, she knows the city and stayed several months when she was a student. She likes the pace, the "good energy" and likes to visit with her husband, Davis Sinapian, Pic CEO.
They are a couple who complement each other well: she does the food and he runs the business, which includes five restaurants, and employs 200 people.
Another 100 staff will be added in New York.
The crown jewels in their empire is Maison Pic, the family-run restaurant that Pic inherited after her father died, a three-star triumph in the southeastern French town of Valence.
There is the one-star Dame de Pic in Paris and a two-star restaurant in Lausanne.
"I find that the trends in New York are very close to French trends," Pic says, talking about passion for all things organic and growing interest in vegetables in America's largest city.
"It corresponds to the evolution of my cuisine, I don't feel like it's a complete shift, even if I have a lot of things to learn."
"What's important for me is to do things that I love, bring pleasure to people, to be in this sincerely," she said.
She says her life is in Valence, where she is investing €3million ($3.8 million) in a new, totally glass kitchen and a 60-square-meter (646-square-foot) laboratory kitchen.
A team will take care of the day to day running of the New York restaurant and she will stick to creating the menu.
She will come "as often as necessary to ensure that the standard is consistent, as I do in the three other restaurants."
She comes from a family of celebrated chefs. Grandfather Andre won three Michelin stars for Maison Pic in 1934 and father Jacques was made a three-star chef in 1973.
She took over Maison Pic in 1998 after it was downgraded to two stars and won back the third star in 2007.
With no formal training, she was nevertheless schooled in flavor by her father but only worked with him a few months before he died.
"The hardest thing is to build something yourself, to find your own path," she told AFP.
Today she says she is more comfortable than when she was 30 even if she still frets over the process of creation.
A self-taught perfectionist, she uses a lot of Japanese techniques and claims "the spirit of French cuisine is her DNA."
In a very male-dominated world, she also stays true to herself.
"I am very demanding in the kitchen, a little 'maternalist' but I try to stay who I am. I think it's important to tell women that when it comes to cuisine, stay women."
She is famous, a chef and a mother. But in what order, she doesn't hesitate for a second.
"I am a woman and a mother before being a chef," she says.