My life in food: Hélène Darroze

 

After working under Alain Ducasse, Hélène Darroze opened her own restaurant in Paris in 1999 and received a Michelin star just two years later. In 2011, her restaurant at the Connaught Hotel in London's Mayfair received two stars from the Michelin critics.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

Most used would be my cocotte oven-proof dish. I use it for chicken, for fish or whenever I simmer something for a long time. I can put a piece of meat inside, put it in the oven and let it cook, then remove it and just serve it from that on the table. The thing I never use is the microwave. I have one at home, but it's a very old thing and we never use it. In my restaurant kitchens – in London and Paris – I don't have one.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I would go to a good bakery and buy a nice piece of country bread, or baguette. Then I would buy a good piece of cheese, and chocolate, too. I love a good chocolate, with a very good piece of bread. I used to have this in the afternoon with my grandmother when I was a child, and for me there is nothing better. When I was a child I also used to have warm milk, directly from the farmer. When you boiled it and left it a bit there was cream on the top, and my grandmother used to put the cream with the bread and chocolate. It was just wonderful.

What do you eat for comfort?

It will surprise you, but I like very simple things. When I come back home, my mother doesn't need to ask me what I want any more because she knows it will be a roast chicken. One from La Londe, my country. They are corn-fed so have a lot of fat and a lot of taste – I'm at my most comfortable with that.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

I don't know, but I suppose it would have to be potatoes. I love them both, but there are so many ways of cooking the potato. So, for that reason, there is more pleasure in it for me as a cook. I love them boiled, and with a little bit of olive oil or butter they're marvellous. Fries; mashed potato; the roast ones on the side on a Sunday in a country pub – I love them. The potato is probably the best vegetable – it gives you so many ways to express yourself.

What's your desert island recipe?

I would take one of my recipes, my black rice signature dish, which is very successful with everyone, and which I love. It's black rice with calamari and chorizo and parmesan emulsion.

What's your favourite restaurant?

The one run by Thomas Keller in New York, Per Se. Keller, for me, is the best chef at the moment. I love his way of cooking, his sensibility, the emotion he puts in the plate, the produce he uses. Everything is perfect. I had the opportunity to cook with him once at this restaurant and we did a dinner together. I was so lucky that he agreed to do that with me, he had never done that before. Four days I spent in the kitchen with him – that was just a dream for me.

What's your favourite cookbook?

I love the first one by Alain Ducasse – La Riviera. I worked a lot on it with him and it was very interesting. And I like mine, too! It's special, there is so much of me in it.

Who taught you to cook?

I am the fourth generation of my family to cook, so you could say I was born in the kitchen. My biggest influence was from my grandmothers. They both taught me so much about ingredients and about the integrity of food.

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