Chef Hélène Darroze on Her Six Michelin Stars, Food Photos and What Makes a Great Meal

"Every day, you have to start like it hasn’t happened before. You have to always put yourself in question," Michelin-starred chef Hélène Darroze tells Observer.

Hélène Darroze. ADN Production

Hélène Darroze’s name has become synonymous with innovative, high-end French cuisine, but the chef has done her best to remain humble, despite opening several lauded restaurants and earning six Michelin stars. Her first restaurant, Marsan, named in honor of her hometown in the southwest of France, debuted in Paris in 1999, and she has since established Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London and Hélène Darroze à Villa La Coste in Provence. She also runs a Parisian bistro, Jòia, and recently took over two restaurants at the Royal Mansour Marrakech. But it’s Marsan that holds her heart. 

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“It’s one where we celebrate my roots, my family, my education, my take on my country,” Darroze tells Observer. “I love all my restaurants. They’re all my babies and I love them. I don’t prefer one or the other. But Marsan is very special because I invested all my money [into it] 25 years ago, and then later, I invested all my money to refurbish it. I have a special connection to it.”

Hélène Darroze at Royal Mansour. ichou

At the Royal Mansour, Darroze has taken over La Grande Brasserie, a traditional French fine dining restaurant, but she will also helm a Moroccan eatery in the historic hotel. She says she’s learned a lot during the process, including new techniques and flavors. “It’s the kind of food that I love because it’s so good and it’s about generosity,” Darroze says. “It’s the cuisine of romance. It’s the cuisine of flavor and emotion and, of course, sharing. There are so many similarities between this cuisine, myself and my way of cooking.”

The chef, who splits her time between London and Paris, continues to innovate and learn. While there are a few beloved classics that are mainstays on her menus, for Darroze, great food is about trying new things as often as possible. We spoke to her about celebrating 25 years with Marsan, how social media has impacted her restaurants and what makes a great meal. 

Marsan in Paris. Jean Marc Palisse

This year is the 25th anniversary of you opening Marsan in Paris. Have you had a chance to reflect on what that means to you?

Not really. People remind me all the time that it’s a success, et cetera, et cetera. But if I stop and I think about it, the first thing that comes into my mind is happiness. It’s a lot of happiness. Some of my colleagues have always told me, “Oh, you’re still on Saturday evenings? You’re still at the service with guests and in the kitchen? You are crazy. You don’t need to do that.” But it’s my life and I love it. I love meeting the guests. I love sharing with my team. I love creating happiness from my food. So the first word [I think of] is happiness, but it’s also a lot of work and a lot of responsibility. I have some extremely beautiful memories. Marsan is the mother restaurant and it opened so many doors to other things. It’s incredible.

Do you still cook during service at your restaurants?

No, I won’t say that. But particularly when I am here in Paris, at Marsan, I am in the kitchen. I’m checking everything. I’m always the one who works on the [recipe] testing. I just did that today for the past two hours with one of my right hand [chefs]. But I’m not the one who cooks the meat or plates the salad. When I am in Paris at Marsan, I check all of the plates that leave the kitchen. That’s probably the only restaurant where I am doing that at the moment. 

At à Villa La Coste, her restaurant in Provence. Bernhard Winkelmann

You have several restaurants and six Michelin stars. At this point in your career, what does success mean to you?

I have this idea that nothing is won. You have to come back a little bit to put yourself in question again immediately. Everybody says to me, “You have six Michelin stars and all these restaurants,” but for me I just work. That’s it. It’s not a question of pride. I have this feeling that nothing is won. So I don’t really realize [my success] and it’s better like that. I always do my best and that’s it. And I’m not alone. I have amazing teams in all the restaurants and around me, and that’s very important for me. I’m not alone and it’s the success of a whole team. I’m part of the team. I have friends who fight for women in Afghanistan. Another one is an oncologist and works a lot to improve the science. These people are amazing. Me? I just cook. 

What was the last great meal you had?

It was with my family. My mom, my daughters, my nephew, some friends. It was at home. I love welcoming people. I cooked choucroute, which is a very traditional dish from Alsace with fermented cabbage and a lot of sausage and pork. It’s a winter dish. It was super good to share it. I cook it once a year. My mother, she is the queen of crepes. She has this reputation, so everybody was expecting that. And there was good wine. And it was a Sunday and there was sunshine. That was probably my last great meal. For me, a good meal is good people around the table sharing dishes with a good ambiance. 

Chef Hélène Darroze on Her Six Michelin Stars, Food Photos and What Makes a Great Meal