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Hélène Darroze

After the family restaurant closed in 1999, Hélène decided to move to Paris to open Restaurant Hélène Darroze. Success came quickly; her first star was awarded in 2001, with a second soon after in 2003 (which she retained until the 2010 edition of the Michelin Guide). This rapid rise to the top in the world’s gastronomic capital made Hélène a star of the Paris food scene; it wasn’t until The Connaught hotel in London approached her in 2008, however, that she became well-known in the UK. Enquiring whether she’d be interested in opening a restaurant at the hotel, Hélène was at first apprehensive – but a look at the grandiose dining room soon changed her mind.

'I was completely surprised when they asked me,’ she explains. ‘It was never my idea or goal, and initially I didn't want to consider it because my home was in France. But they convinced me to come and take a look and I instantly fell in love with the space. I didn't know much about London at all, having never worked here before, but I could feel this real energy about the place that I felt Paris was perhaps lacking in at the time.'

Hélène Darroze at The Connaught opened to great fanfare, and within three years had gained two Michelin stars. It was no easy feat – Hélène divided her time between the two restaurants, living in Paris for one week, London the next, with her two adopted daughters in tow. Now that the restaurant is over ten years old and well established she doesn’t spend quite as much time going back and forth across the Channel, but the focus on precise, expressive cookery is still certainly there.

‘These days we focus on looking for small producers here in the UK, which has been quite hard at times,’ she says. ‘Obviously being from southwest France means I get a lot of ingredients from there, as that's what has shaped my culture and style of cooking, but we're always discovering more produce from the UK. British cuisine has changed a lot in the past ten years, and there are always new producers popping up. We've focused on improving technique a lot since we opened, and made sure the produce, the flavour in each dish and the maturity of the whole experience at the restaurant has increased.’

Heading to a two-starred French fine dining restaurant located in one of London’s swankiest hotels means there’s a certain expectation on the sort of food that’s on the menu. While certain aspects of that can be found at The Connaught – the most luxurious ingredients, classical techniques on show and impeccable service – don’t assume that Hélène’s cooking is focused on traditional southwestern French flavours. While her personality shines through in every dish (Espelette pepper – a bright red spice from southwest France and northwest Spain used extensively in Hélène’s cooking – is placed on the table instead of black pepper, for example), there are plenty of international influences too.

'My first international influences came from Italy during my time with Alain Ducasse, as we were so close to the country, and I spent lots of time there too. But then I started going further afield to places like India. I don't get to travel as much as I'd like but whenever I do I try to learn and pick up new techniques as much as possible.'

As a result, Hélène's cooking offers a truly unique interpretation of French fine dining, with international ingredients and flavours accentuating incredible produce (which she has always prioritised over everything else). While France will always be her home, London has acquired a world-class restaurant thanks to Hélène's tie-in at The Connaught – and as fans of fine food, we can't thank her enough.

Three things you should know

Hélène asks that her team of chefs call her by her name, rather than addressing her as ‘chef’ – something she puts down to her time in the kitchen with Alain Ducasse, where the ingredients were always given more importance than the head chef.

Hélène was the inspiration for the character Colette in the Pixar film Ratatouille.

In 2012, Hélène received the title of Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour – France’s equivalent to being knighted.