If there’s anyone passionate about haute cuisine and culinary excellence, it’s Hélène Darroze. Since earning two Michelin stars for her eponymous restaurant in Paris, the French chef has taken the helm at the Connaught in London, and was named the Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef earlier this year. She even inspired a character in the Pixar classic Ratatouille. Darroze’s cuisine has captured the hearts of foodies in both London and Paris, but the inspiration behind her cuisine has always been international. Here she tells us about studying under one of the world’s best chefs, and what she’s learnt from traditional home cooking.
France is an international hub for culinary excellence – which foods influenced you growing up?
French toast is the dish I associate most strongly with childhood. Even now, if I see it on a menu, I have to have it. It used to be made for me by my grandmother who was from a generation who didn’t want to put anything in the dustbin; she taught us to use every last bit of food. Every other day or so, she would make French toast from days- old bread, which she would serve with some marmalade or jam and a little bit of cream. It could be eaten as a meal on its own when we came in hungry from school or as a dessert after dinner.
What was it like working with acclaimed Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse in Monaco?
It was incredible – it was actually Alain Ducasse who pinpointed my potential and made me realise I had to work in the kitchen. He said I had passion, taste, and was very serious. The fact he supported me in the kitchen was very important for my father. What I learnt from Alain is what I also learnt from my family: the respect for products and producers, respect for taste, and the simplicity of cooking around the products.
Besides France, which country’s culinary traditions do you enjoy the most?
Italy. I learnt a lot from my time with Alain Ducasse in Monaco; I was there for three years working with one of his chefs of Italian descent who really inspired me. I also spent a lot of time with his family, including his mother who was 70 years old at the time and a true “mamma” serving incredible authentic Italian cuisine – I learnt a lot from her. Asia has also influenced me greatly because
of my travels there.
How does travel influence your work and your cooking style?
My visits to India inspired one of the signature dishes at my London restaurant, Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, which comprises tandoori spices with scallops or lobster – whichever is fresher. Another dish, “Retour d’Hanoï” [return from Hanoi] at the Connaught, which is seafood based, was inspired by my first visit to Vietnam where I sampled a simple seafood phó dish for the first time.
The concept of fine dining has evolved quite a bit in the recent decade. Do you see a difference from when you first entered the culinary world?
The expectations are always the same: good products and emotions. If you do not cook the best products you will never provide good food. If you do not input your personal emotions, your sensibilities – if you do not tell a story – you are missing something. Around these rules, the interpretation of each chef is different, particularly with the service, which is more and more casual. Our guests are becoming more focused on good products, emotions and authenticity.
What was one of the most exceptional luxury experiences you’ve had while travelling?
I have had few and it is often more to do with the people you are travelling with than about being in a luxurious place. All the experiences I had with my daughters were a luxury to me. We had a few in New York City at The Greenwich Hotel – our base when we’re in town. We had one recently staying at the Aman Venice and also in Biarritz, which is my native country. When we are not with family in Biarritz we love to stay at the Hôtel du Palais.
Do you have any bucket-list destinations you hope to visit in the near future?
Japan is certainly the destination I would like to explore more with my daughters. Now that my girls are old enough to understand this kind of trip, we’ll be visiting there soon.