As the only woman in Mayfair to have ever received three Michelin stars, The Connaught’s Hélène Darroze hopes to encourage more women into the world of gastronomy
Words Reyhaan Day
With the awarding of a third Michelin star, Hélène Darroze has cemented her reputation as not just one of the best chefs in Mayfair, but across the globe. Her eponymous restaurant at The Connaught has long been celebrated – but the latest addition to her collection of awards shows the hard work Darroze and her team have put in over the years.
“It was a big recognition for us. When we cook, we only have one aim: to give happiness to all of our guests,” says Darroze on an early call from Paris. That is why we cook; it’s why we give the experience we do to our diners. Of course, we want to improve the experience every day… we always want to give more.”
Darroze says that the award was a beacon of light against the backdrop of the pandemic. “It was very good news in a very strange time. It’s very frustrating for me not to be with my team at The Connaught. We couldn’t meet, we couldn’t celebrate. It’s not the same over Zoom!”
Much like everyone else in the industry, Darroze has no idea of what the near future might bring, only hope.
“I would like to have an answer as to where the industry will be in the next few months but, unfortunately, I don’t. I don’t think even our governments know where we will go. For the moment, there are no dates – no future. I just hope that the vaccination will help the situation. I think the future of restaurants is really linked to immunity – at least, that is what I understand from France.
“Once we are told that we can open at the normal level, I’m sure that people are so frustrated that they will run to restaurants.” Of course, winning the third star will help encourage food lovers back into the restaurant; but Darroze says that the recognition will also bring increased pressure.
“We have to assume that this third star will bring a lot of people, a lot of curiosity and a lot of expectation also. Immediately after opening we will have to give our best and, once again, continue to question ourselves in order to improve every day…I told my colleagues: ‘this is just the beginning’. The hardest part is yet to come because we have to be at the level of that, and we have to reach the level of expectation that comes with three Michelin stars.
Darroze represents a shining example of what women can achieve in the industry, which is heavily male dominated. “In the world of gastronomy, being a chef at this high level is usually more for guys. Most of the three Michelin-starred restaurants are led by men.
“What happened this year (Clare Smyth also received a third star for her work at Core) was proof that there is a place for women, and we have a big role to play.”
“The advice I’ve always given to women chefs is: ‘be yourself, be a woman; embrace your femininity; and cook as a woman’ – then things will happen.”
Darroze has been at the forefront of Mayfair’s dining scene since she arrived in London 13 years ago. In that time, she has seen the area go from strength to strength – and considers this just as much a home as Paris.
“When I arrived, it was Scott’s and George – and that’s it. Step by step, this area has become something very particular in London. It’s a little pot of heaven – with beautiful shops, beautiful energy and beautiful people. I’m very proud to have a restaurant here, because Mayfair is the centre of the world.”
WOMEN IN WHITES
A doyenne of Mayfair’s culinary scene, Angela Hartnett has been a force of nature in a world dominated by men, gaining recognition for her work at Murano and the more informal Café Murano. Her role in the Seat At The Table campaign during the pandemic has shown Hartnett’s dedication to the industry and that her voice is heard loud and clear.
20 Queen Street
Just over in Covent Garden is the phenomenal restaurant of Asma Khan, who has been profiled on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, and who unceasingly promotes female talent in the industry. Her kitchen is women-only, featuring predominantly home cooks, and Asma offers flexible working hours so staff can have time with their families.
2a Garrick Street
After many years creating iconic dishes at pioneering Spanish restaurant Barrafina, Nieves struck out on her own to launch Sabor on Heddon Street – now backed by the untouchable JKS Restaurants. Catching her in action behind the counter is a pleasure, and the food is even better.
35-37 Heddon Street