"I cook what I am and I am what I cook," declares Hélène Darroze of her ethos in the kitchen. With two Michelin stars awarded to both of the kitchens she heads up – at her eponymous restaurant in Paris and Mayfair’s The Connaught hotel – it would seem to be one to stand by...
Raised in southwest France, Hélène follows in the footsteps of three previous generations of cooks – a young Hélène first helping her grandfather from the age of 12, then working with her father before opening her own restaurant in 1999. And it is still family and food that are recognisably at the heart of everything she does.
Harrods Chef of the Season, with an exclusive Hélène At Home range available in the Harrods Food Halls, we caught up with Hélène to talk heritage, haute cuisine and Christmas at home.
I started to cook when I was six or seven years old. I loved it from the beginning, but I never saw it as a career. My first job in the industry was at 12 years old as a dishwasher in my grandfather’s restaurant; I used to do that during the holidays and worked my way up through the different positions while studying. As soon as I graduated I started at Alain Ducasse in Monaco and after two years he said: "You have to move into the kitchen; you have to cook – you love it so much." I told him I couldn’t, though in reality it was my dream.
The basis of everything I do is the product and my concern every day is to find the best possible product I can. My ethos has always been 'I cook what I am and I am what I cook', a Michelin-starred dish is not only created by a talented chef, it is the finest ingredients, too. I cook simply, not too many flavours and, of course, each dish has a special relevance to me.
My heritage plays a big influence on my style. I'm the fourth generation in my family to cook and I come from a culture where art de vivre cuisine and food is so important. I'm also influenced by my education and my professional life – I spent three years working with Alain Ducasse in Monaco. I can't cook something I don't like or don't believe in, but actually my cooking methods are very traditional, you will never see any molecular cuisine on my plate. I respect that type of cooking but it's not me.
Some of the first dishes I mastered have become signature dishes on my menu. 'Oyster tartare, caviar Oscietra, white coco bean velouté', for example – Michel Guerard (the three Michelin-star chef) once said it was one of the most balanced dishes he had ever tasted; a very special moment for me.
When I was first approached about coming to London, I wasn’t sure straightaway. As soon as I saw The Connaught hotel, however, I fell in love – we share the same values of tradition with a bit of innovation. There is such a variety of cultures and cuisines in London. I love Japanese food and some of my favourite restaurants are here. There’s also a special energy you only find in London.
With my other restaurant in Paris I am still able to spend a lot of time in France. I spend at least two days a week in London and the remainder in France. If I am ever away it’s my family and friends I miss.
Growing up in southwest France evokes many fond memories for me, most of which include enjoying meals with my family. My grandmother was a fantastic cook; my absolute favourite dishes are things like roast chicken or pot-au-feu the way my grandmother used to cook them – they are dishes that bring the entire family together around a laden table.
For me the most important thing about Christmas is to be with family. This year I will spend Christmas in France with my family, cooking for about a dozen on Christmas Eve, and then around 20 for Christmas lunch.
If you’re hosting Christmas at home, serve things that can be done in advance, and don’t cook things that have to be plated. I prefer to put something in the middle of the table that can be shared. It takes less time and is more fun, like the Pigeon Wellington or Salt Cod Tortilla from my Harrods range.
The key to a perfectly cooked turkey is to let it roast slowly, continually basting it with the juices. If you need to roast it in advance that’s fine, wrap it in tin foil, gently heat it back up, but keep it whole – if you slice it before it will dry out. To bring even more flavour, eat with a creamy sauce.
The Hélène At Home range, which includes everything from canapés to desserts – perfect for at-home entertaining – is available from early November in the Harrods Food Halls. Hélène will also host three exclusive supper club evenings – Hélène Darroze at Harrods – and has created a special five-course set menu for this occasion. Available on Wednesday 6th December, Thursday 7th December and Friday 8th December only, discerning foodies can taste dishes from Hélène’s restaurants and the take-home range with the unique opportunity to meet her, too. View the menu here or make a booking by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Try one of Hélène's recipes for yourself below...