Hélène Darroze wins International Outstanding Achievement Award, sponsored by the Safe Group
The holder of six Michelin stars across four restaurants and two countries, Hélène Darroze is unquestionably one of the most successful female chefs of all time. Indeed, Darroze has enjoyed a spectacular career on both sides of the English Channel, and yet, things could have been so different.
Despite being the fourth generation of chefs in her family, the Veuve Clicquot World's Best Female Chef 2015 had no plans to earn a living at the stove, assuming that her brother would continue her family's gastronomic legacy. But something was in the stars, and, after graduating with a business degree from Sup'de Com in Bordeaux, Darroze secured a position working as an assistant to Alain Ducasse at his revered restaurant, Le Louis XV in Monaco.
Ducasse soon discovered that Darroze came from a family of great culinary significance in Villeneuve-de-Marsan in south-western France. Over the ensuing years, she split her time between the office and the kitchen, gaining insight into the workings of the restaurant.
After working for Ducasse for three years, she returned to her family's restaurant and helped to retain its existing Michelin star. When the restaurant closed in 1999, she opened Restaurant Hélène Darroze on Rue d'Assas, Paris, and won her first Michelin star in 2001, closely followed by a second in 2003.
In 2008, she was presented with an opportunity to be the new chef at the Connaught in London, replacing fellow chef Angela Hartnett, who had operated under the Gordon Ramsay umbrella. Hélène Darroze at the Connaught launched as part of a £70m refurbishment of the hotel. The restaurant was swiftly awarded a Michelin star in 2009, a second in 2011 and, to great applause, a third in 2021.
Meanwhile, back in Paris, in 2018 she had opened her second restaurant in the capital, Jòia (‘joyous' in English), and followed that up in 2019 by a major reimagining of her flagship restaurant, which she renamed Marsan par Hélène Darroze. It was awarded two Michelin stars in January last year, just one week before she received three stars at the Connaught.
But that wasn't the only achievement of note last year for Darozze. She also opened a fourth restaurant, Villa La Coste, near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, realising a longstanding ambition for the 55-year-old chef that dated back to her formative years in Monaco. "I always had the idea to come back to Mediterranean cuisine one day," she told the Financial Times, adding that Villa La Coste has allowed her to put her own stamp on Provençal cooking.
On top of her business successes, Darroze is now a household name in France thanks to the award of Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour – France's equivalent of a knighthood – by president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, and her jury status on the French TV show Top Chef. Earlier this year, she also assumed the role of honorary president of judges for the 2022 Roux Scholarship.
Her calm demeanour (she insists her chefs call her by her first name, not "chef") resulted in her inspiring the character Colette in the Pixar film Ratatouille, with a film crew spending a week following Darroze around her flagship restaurant kitchen in Paris. Speaking at the time, she said: "It is a movie about passion. We as cooks understand that, in the kitchen, everyone can live this passion, even if you're a rat."
Image: Jérôme Galland