French Cuisine

French chef reveals her 'secret ingredients' for five star success

French chef Hélène Darroze in one of her restaurants.
French chef Hélène Darroze in one of her restaurants. © Joel Saget AFP/Archives

In a business still dominated by men, French chef Helene Darroze is the first woman to take the leap from three to five Michelin stars in 2021. She insists that emotion plays a key role in her recipes, which have taken the restaurant world by storm.

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Helene Darroze is the first woman to pick up two Michelin stars at once; a third for her London restaurant at The Connaught hotel and a second for Marsan in Paris. 

This puts the 53 year-old in a tiny club of just seven women worldwide who run a three-star kitchen.

She is adamant that her womanhood is the reason for her success: "Men and women are not made in the same way. And it shows on the plate."

"A man primarily wants to show off what he can do, whereas a woman wants to please. It is more about emotion, to which technique is added, rather than technique with emotion added later," she said. 

Darroze is careful to stress that she has "great respect" for male chefs.

But her message to the fast-growing generation of female chefs is "Live your passion as women... do not try to be someone else."

She says she has been fortunate to be spared the misogyny suffered by many female counterparts in this "male environment" and has tried to avoid the abrasive, military style of the typical kitchen with its ranks and barking orders. 

"Problems aren't solved by yelling or throwing a spoon," she says.

Darroze has also become a household name in France thanks to her appearances on the television show "Top Chef" and she even has a Barbie doll in her image.

Family tradition 

Darroze is the fourth generation of her family to go into the business, and her restaurants are renowned for the Basque flavours of her home region in southwestern France. 

She almost didn't follow in the family footsteps, opting for business school in the 1980s, until famed chef Alain Ducasse encouraged her to launch herself into haute cuisine at his Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo. 

Being a woman has imposed some difficult decisions throughout her career, not least delaying motherhood until the age of 40, when she adopted two Vietnamese girls. By then, she already had two Michelin stars.

However, even someone of Darroze's skill has not escaped unscathed by the ravages of the Covid pandemic: it has taken government support and a click-and-collect service at her other Paris restaurant Joia to stay afloat. 

But overall she is optimistic. 

"When all this is over, we will want a cuisine that comforts us."

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