Obsession 2016: Annie Féolde

Obsession 2016: Annie Féolde

by Great British Chefs 25 January 2016

With three Michelin stars to her name and a Florentine restaurant that's hailed as one of the best in Italy, Annie Féolde has come a long way from being a postwoman in France. Learn more about her career so far as she gets ready to cook at Nigel Haworth's Obsession festival.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

1993 was a big year for Annie Féolde. Her restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri, which she owned and ran with her sommelier husband Giorgio Pinchiorri, was awarded three Michelin stars. As head chef, this made her the third woman in the world to achieve this status, and the first outside of France.

Annie still holds those three stars today, cementing her position as one the greatest chefs of her generation, and now she is coming to Lancashire for the first time to cook her signature Tuscan dishes here in the UK. Nigel Haworth, the organiser of Northcote’s Obsession, has invited her along with fourteen other chefs to serve a bespoke, one-off menu. ‘I hadn’t heard of Obsession before I was invited to take part, but I was instantly curious about it,’ says Annie. ‘I’m always happy to discover new things.’

Born in Nice, France to a family of hoteliers, Annie was at first against the idea of becoming a chef after seeing for herself how many sacrifices you have to make. Instead, she followed her passion for languages, visiting London to work as a nanny, Paris to work in the postal service and then Florence, where she met her husband-to-be Giorgio, a keen wine collector and master sommelier. She started cooking little bites to eat that went with the wine, and then together they opened Enoteca Pinchiorri, winning a first Michelin star in 1981, the second in 1982, and the third in 1993.

Enoteca Pinchiorri
Enoteca Pinchiorri is one of the best restaurants in the world
Tuscan produce
Annie's dishes make the most of Tuscan produce

Home and away

Tuscany’s hard-working artisan producers are very dear to Annie’s heart; so much so that she’s filling her suitcases with their specialist products. ‘We’re bringing most of the ingredients with us ourselves for Obsession,’ she says. ‘We almost always use produce from Tuscany, or at the very least things made in Italy.’ This isn’t to say that she finds British food uninspiring. ‘I love British produce, especially the more ‘niche’ ingredients such as lamb and blue cheese. As long as it’s not mass-produced, I think it’s great.’

One thing that might worry a chef about showcasing their food at a festival like Obsession is working in an unfamiliar kitchen. Not knowing how to work the blast chiller or searching for a particular utensil at a critical time could spell disaster for a dish. This doesn’t worry Annie, however ­– she’s more concerned about the social side of things. ‘It’s always easy to cook in someone else’s kitchen, so long as the host is friendly!’ she laughs. ‘We usually arrive on our tiptoes, hoping to discover something new and to have the chance to explain our cuisine, so people can fully appreciate it.’

As well as being one of the world’s greatest chefs, Annie has also become a role model for women wanting to make a mark in the world of professional cookery. The gender divide in cheffing has always leant heavily towards males, but people like Annie prove there is no reason why this should be the case. However, she does think women need to be more driven than men. ‘Honestly, I think cooking professionally is a hard job for women,’ she says. ‘I have met so few in the past forty years. You have to work until late, there’s no time for holidays and you have to be away from your home and family at the time when everyone gets together at the dinner table. It’s also hard for men, but their lifestyle seems to be more accepted. It’s a very physical job, and women need to be twice as motivated as men to become professional chefs.’