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  • Writer's pictureSasha Huang

Legendary Chef Hélène Darroze On Cooking Philosophies, French Gastronomy & 'Magic' at The Connaught

INTERVIEW


HD at Joia - Credit Nicolas Buisson
Photo: Nicolas Buisson

Introducing Hélène Darroze, the real-life chef muse behind two iconic figures of popular culture: Colette, the animated character from Pixar's legendary Ratatouille, and the esteemed chef doll in Mattel's celebrated collection of Barbie role models.


This revered French chef and devoted mother of two daughters boasts an impressive 6 Michelin stars across three renowned restaurants, and is a coveted role model in the culinary sphere. Raised in Mont de Marsan, nestled in the picturesque region of Les Landes in Southwestern France, Chef Darroze's passion for gastronomy was nurtured from an early age, as she hails from a family of esteemed chefs.


While pursuing a business degree at L'Ecole Supérieure de Commerce in Bordeaux, the budding chef also developed a deep reverence for the art of cooking and a profound appreciation for the diverse cultures and ingredients that inspire it. These twin passions propelled her toward the culinary path, where she has since become a shining star in her own right.



Darroze is undoubtedly a culinary titan with an unparalleled talent for transforming the finest ingredients from her native Les Landes, the French Pays Basque, and the British Isles into exquisite gastronomic creations.


Her journey began with the opening of Restaurant Hélène Darroze in the chic neighborhood of Saint-Germain des Prés in Paris. After rebranding the establishment as Marsan by Hélène Darroze, she earned her first Michelin star in 2001, followed by a second in 2021. Her empire expanded to London's Mayfair district with the acclaimed Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, which earned three Michelin stars in 2021.


In 2018, Chef Darroze added Jòia by Hélène Darroze to her portfolio, located in the vibrant Le Sentier neighbourhood of Paris. And most recently, in July 2021, she opened Hélène Darroze at Villa La Coste, which promptly earned a Michelin star just a year later.


Her culinary prowess defies categorisation – it transcends traditional French cuisine, as her unique approach to gastronomy is simply known as Darroze's cuisine. She invests her heart and soul into each of her restaurants, dividing her time between London and Paris to bestow the gift of gourmet dining upon both cities.


And now, we have the great privilege of sitting down with the incomparable Chef Hélène Darroze to discuss her remarkable journey in the culinary world. Without further ado:


Langoustine seaweed popcorn - Helene Darroze at The Connaught - Copyright Justin De Souza
Photo: Justin De Souza

1. You grew up as the fourth generation from a family of chefs. How, and to what extent, did that influence you and your craft?


Food is in my DNA. I recall my mother saying that I understood how to taste food before I could even walk. Like most kids, I started baking cakes when I was very young and had my first experience with “cooking”.


I have been very influenced by the vision of my family and my upbringing. It was always about bringing our guests happiness by cooking the best products we could source. I wanted my guests to always feel like they were in my home when we welcomed them into my restaurant. These two points have not really changed and today it remains my philosophy. It is just that today, I have more rigour, maturity and expertise. And also more staff around me who think and work the same way I do. The more of us who think in this way, the more creative we are.


Fresh Mackerel lightly smoked, Amalfi lemon, potimarron and roasted pumpkin seeds-JustinDeSouza
Photo: Justin De Souza

2. How would you describe your cooking philosophy?


My cooking philosophy is very personal, inspired by my emotions, travels and encounters, while using the very finest ingredients. My style of leadership is to let my chefs work with this philosophy as inspiration, but of course, allow them to have their own interpretations and creations.


Smoked lobster, Helene Darroze at The Connaught - ©Justin De Souza
Photo: Justin De Souza

3. What do you bring to the very established table of French cuisine?


I would not claim I have revolutionised French gastronomy. But as I am one of the first women in this age of the industry to lead a kitchen, I feel I brought a more sensitive cuisine to the global stage, led by emotion rather than technique.


Helene plating HD at The Connaught - Credit Justin de Souza
Photo: Justin de Souza


'I have been very influenced by the vision of my family and my upbringing. It was always about bringing our guests happiness through cooking the best products we could source.'

Hélène Darroze




Spider and brown Cornish Crab, txangurro style, pomelo, long pepper and tarragon - Helene Darroze at The Connaught - Crab in shell - Copyright Justin De Souza (1)
Photo: Justin De Souza

4. The Connaught was awarded 3 Michelin stars, Marsan by Hélène Darroze 2 and Hélène Darroze at Villa La Coste with 1. Who was the biggest inspiration in your culinary career and how do you wish to inspire others?


My biggest inspiration is the department of Les Landes in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and the Basque country, where I grew up – they make up the foundation of my cuisine. I was always surrounded by truly amazing ingredients, but also the constant desire to spread happiness through food.


Alain Ducasse – for whom I worked when I first started in the industry – was certainly somebody very important to me. I’ve always said, every day is a blank page, even if you do a job that you love, you always have to question yourself.

Crystal caviar oyster - Helene Darroze at The Connaught - Copyright Justin De Souza
Photo: Justin De Souza

5. You have published four books, and judged on Top Chef since 2015 all the while succeeding in your ventures and being a mother of two. How do you keep your work-life balance?


Well, I still wonder! I have a loyal team of collaborators with me that allows me to travel from one place to another, knowing that my philosophy and values are conveyed in my various restaurants. My daughters will always be my priority in my life.


HD at The Connaught, Helene plating - Credit Justin de Souza
Photo: Justin de Souza

6. Describe yourself in three words.


Family. Generosity. Humility.


7. Describe your culinary art in three words.


Emotion. Authenticity. Creativity.



Mylor prawns, radishes from Allywood farm,finger lime, voatsiperifery pepper -Justin De Souza
Photo: Justin De Souza



'Emotion. Authenticity. Creativity.'

– Hélène Darroze






Helene Darroze at The Connaught 3. Credit - Jérôme Galland
Photo: Jérôme Galland

8. What do you wish your guests will take away from their experience at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught?


The magic of the Connaught.


The dining room designed by Pierre Yovanovitch is very special – facing Carlos Place and the Tadao Ando water feature. It is very personal; I have put a lot of myself, of my life, into the experience. It is authentic, very honest, and every detail from arrival to departure is carefully considered. The team is also, of course, part of the magic. I have a very dedicated and loyal team who completely embrace my cuisine and my vision. I can totally rely on them.



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All imagery is provided by Lotus International.



Address: The Connaught, Carlos Pl, Mayfair, London W1K 2AL, United Kingdom | Website: the-connaught.co.uk/restaurants-bars/helene-darroze-at-the-connaught | Phone: +44 20 3147 7200 | Email: helenedarroze@the-connaught.co.uk | Instagram: @helenedarrozeattheconnaught | Facebook: @helenedarrozeattheconnaught

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