Being at the helm of one of London’s most accomplished Michelin-starred restaurants is hard enough – to run it whilst simultaneously looking after restaurants in France is even tougher. However, Hélène Darroze makes it look easy, ensuring the experience at all her restaurants is seamless, with incredible cookery inspired by where she grew up at the centre of it all.
Born in The Landes, a region of southwestern France below Bordeaux, it seemed Hélène was destined to be a chef. Her family owned and operated a Michelin-starred restaurant, and she spent her early years absorbing the hospitality lifestyle without even knowing it. ‘Apparently I cooked my first apple tart when I was six, although I can’t remember it very well,’ she says. ‘I was always baking cakes as a child, and whenever my parents had company I would do the pastry. I loved the energy in the kitchen at my family’s restaurant, especially in the mornings when the producers, farmers and fishermen would come to the back door with their ingredients. I was so curious about everything.’
Despite being in the thick of Michelin-starred cooking, Hélène was encouraged to follow an academic path instead of a life in the kitchen. ‘I was always a good student, so I studied business and then went onto university, as that was what was expected of me. I never really thought about being a chef – that was more expected of my brother – but after finishing at university I got a job working as an assistant to Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV in Monaco.’
Whether it was luck or destiny, Hélène found herself back in the world of Michelin-starred cooking, although she planned to stay in the office doing administrative work rather than rattling the pans. After learning about her background and family restaurant, however, Alain Ducasse encouraged her to help out in the restaurant. Over the next three years she divided her time between the office and the kitchen, learning not only how to run a restaurant but also how to cook at a three-star level.
‘Everything was about precision,’ says Hélène. ‘I learned so much during my time there, questioning everything right down to the plates. Ducasse is from my region, however, and he had the same ideas as my father back home when it came to respecting the produce and focusing on authenticity. They had very similar roots when it came to cooking.’
Hélène eventually decided to return home to help run the family restaurant, but under strict instructions from Ducasse to ensure she worked as a chef rather than anything administrative. This came as a surprise; while she had three years’ experience helping out in the kitchen, Hélène didn’t feel she was ready to work as a chef full-time. Her father was enthusiastic about the idea, however, and Hélène’s talents were confirmed when she retained the family restaurant’s Michelin star.
Awards & Press
- Michelin 3 Stars