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GOURMET TRAVEL: Helene darroze

Hélène Darroze was born in Landes in South West France, into a family comprising three generations of chefs. In 1990, after graduating from business school L’Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Bordeaux, she joined Alain Ducasse’s team at the prestigious three Michelin-starred Le Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo.


In 1999 she opened ‘Restaurant Helene Darroze’ in Paris and was awarded her first Michelin star within two years. In July 2008, Helene launched her first UK restaurant ‘Helene Darroze at The Connaught’, which won a second Michelin star in 2011.               

Outside of the kitchen she says that her proudest achievement is creating La Bonne Etoile, a charity looking after disabled, sick children in Vietnam. Here she talks to The Luxury Travel Bible about her inspiration, working with Alain Ducasse and her love of Vietnam.

As well as your native region your cooking has been inspired by influences from Italy and the Basque country. Why these regions? 
Italian - because I learned a lot from my time with Alain Ducasse in Monaco, I was there for three years, and spent a lot of time with one of his chefs of Italian descent who inspired me a lot. I also spent a lot of time with his family, including his ‘mamma’ who was 70 years at the time and a true ‘mamma’ serving incredible authentic Italian cuisine - I learned a lot from her. And the Basque country - well, because it’s where I’m from! 

You are known to tap into your emotions and memories to create dishes that are personally meaningful. What travel experiences have particularly influenced dishes you have created? 
My visits to India inspired one of the signature dishes at my London restaurant ‘Helene Darroze at The Connaught’ - which comprises Tandoori spices with scallops or lobster - whichever is fresher! Another dish ‘Retour de Hanoi’ at The Connaught, which is seafood-based, was inspired by my first visit to Vietnam where I sampled a simple seafood Pho dish for the first time. 

Where in your native France would you recommend people to go?
I love Les Prés d’ Eugenie by Michel Guerard - which is an wonderful estate in my native Les Landes with a little hotel, cookery school, a three Michelin-starred restaurant and two little bistros - it’s amazing! 

Tell us about La Bonne Etoile, (a charity looking after disabled, sick children in Vietnam) was it a visit to Vietnam that inspired you to set this up?
After adopting my two daughters from Vietnam I was inspired to give back some happiness to the country that gave ME so much happiness. I wanted to particularly focus on creating a school and orphanage for disabled children. 

Where else in the world do you love to visit and why?
I love everywhere! I’m very curious but I love New York, it always inspires me and has a great energy. 

What are your favourite overseas restaurants and why?
There are so many but Arzak in San Sébastian (Spain), Michel Bras in Laguiole (France) and Masa in New York are among my favourites. Arzak is a completely novel approach to Basque country cuisine, so incredibly interesting. Michel Bras - I love the guy, the place, the simplicity and authenticity of the food. I love Japanese food and Masa was a completely new experience of it - so special, so simple and so good! 

What is the best meal you have ever had while travelling?
Was a simple bowl of Pho from a street cart in Hanoi after my first day with my daughter - we were so, so happy, it was the best evening ever! 

What has been the most inspirational place you have visited?
There are so many, but I’m constantly inspired by New York and London. 

What is your definition of a 'good' meal?
Dining with people that you share happiness with is essential to a good meal, creating memories that you will remember all your life and when you think about it you remember the taste of the food! 

Your cruise ship sinks. You're going to end up on a desert island. What three ingredients do you take from the kitchen?
Espelette pepper 
Olive Oil 

Where to next?
From London (where I am currently), to Paris and onto New York, a typical week! 
Posted 6/3/15
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