Chef Hélène Darroze of Hélène Darroze at the Connaught Hotel - Biography

London, UK

October 2011

At age 33, Hélène Darroze won two long-shot bets: she left her family's Relais & Château hotel and restaurant in Villeneuve-de-Marsan in France to set up her own restaurant on rue d'Assas in Paris while still keeping her one Michelin star. Within four months of her restaurant opening, she had been able to convince not only the food critics, but also the French and foreign gourmets.

Hélène Darroze is part of a family of hotel and restaurant owners. Yet she didn't realize she wanted to be a chef until her mid-twenties. At first, she was convinced she would become the general manager of the family-owned Relais & Château, following in the footsteps of her father. But she was a good student, so she went to college and graduated from Sup de Co Bordeaux with a BA in Business. To complete her education, she decided to work in a palace where she met Alain Ducasse and her career took another direction.

In December 1990, Hélène Darroze began to work with Chef Ducasse at "Le Louis XV" in Monaco. For four months, she watched, took notes, and was only authorized to clean lettuce and turn butter in a pan. Then she became the Administrative Manager of Alain Ducasse's Bureau, she was in charge of managing the personnel, all the public relations and the chef's professional travels. She also took part in the creation of the book Alain Ducasse's Riviera and of the documentary "A Week in the Kitchen." On a daily basis, she managed the recipe directory and talked with the chef about the restaurant's menus. Thanks to this first-class on-the-job-training, Hélène Darroze decided to become a chef.

During the summer of 1993, Darroze had to go back to her family at Villeneuve-de-Marsan to deal with personal matters. There, she helped her father with management, but soon it was evident that their cooking styles were incompatible. This generational conflict was resolved by Francis Darroze's voluntary resignation, which led to his daughter's "takeover". In January 1995, the hotel was named after her. Since then, the praise has never stopped. In March, the hotel retained the star from the Michelin guide, which her father had earned for several years. In 1995, the Champérard guide (a famous French restaurants guide) elected Hélène Darroze as "Young Chef of the Year" and in 1996, she was named "Chef of the Year for the Southwest Region". The same year, the Gault & Millau guide (second best guide after the Michelin) honored her with the title "Tomorrow's Great Chef". Unfortunately, in the summer of 1999 she was forced to close due to financial reasons. Thus, a new adventure began.

In October 1999, she opened a restaurant in Paris in the Saint-Germain-des-Près district. The Red Guide 2000 awarded the new restaurant with one star, commenting, "The ambassadress of Southwestern haute cuisine comes to conquer the capital city! Contemporary colorful decor, in the image of her cuisine, deliciously personalized." She would also open her self-named restaurant at The Connaught Hotel in London to much fanfare.