Michelin-starred chef Hélène Darroze, crowned best female chef in the world, is a woman of dreams and passion. She is head of the Connaught in London and of her own restaurant in Paris, where she welcomed us in into 'Le Salon d'Hélène’, and chatted to us over a vintage 2005 bottle of Dom Pérignon rosé…
What are we toasting to?
I've just begun a new collaboration - which I hope will be a fruitful one - with someone who has joined my international team. It's a big step for me!
Why did you choose this Dom Pérignon champagne?
It is a great champagne, there is no doubt about that. I have extraordinary memories of it from both from my personal and professional life and have a particular fondness for Richard Geoffroy (Dom Pérignon’s cellar master) with whom I have shared wonderful times over Dom Pérignon. They are engraved in my memory.
Can you share some with us?
Fifteen years ago, I remember a tasting of Dom Pérignon at Hautvillers abbey with Richard Geoffroy, when I was working on my book 'Personne ne me volera ce que j'ai dansé'. In English, it translates as 'No one can steal what I have danced' and I wanted to talk about this champagne in it. We tasted a few of the house vintages; it was extraordinary and for a moment, time stood still. Our friendship grew from then.
Later on, for my fortieth birthday, Richard Geoffrey organised a party for me at the Château de Saran. It was an amazing evening, with a vertical tasting of Dom Pérignon. We were lucky; with some friends of mine, we were able to taste several vintages at different stages of disgorgement and appreciate all their nuances. It was magical! Pascal Tingaud, Moët & Chandon's private chef at the time, was the cook for the evening, and the food and wine pairings were perfect and beautifully simple. I especially remember a dessert which was a simple Sichuan pepper ice-cream. It was exceptional! He also cooked two enormous turbots to go with a special vintage, which was quite a complicated thing to do for thirty people. It was the moment that I discovered an ingredient which I now use a lot: Mexican molé, a cocoa paste with roasted spices. Richard had brought it back from Poblano and Pascal used it to make a sauce to go with a meat dish. It was very special; my friends still talk about it!
Do you remember when you first tasted Dom Pérignon?
Not exactly, but I do remember that when I was awarded my first Michelin star, Jean Berchon (head of communication for Dom Pérignon) gave me a fantastic bottle from the 1959 vintage!
How does this champagne inspire you in terms of tastes and pairings?
This house is known for its elegance, and so in line with that, caviar, foie gras and truffles paired with Dom Pérignon are unforgettable; they work very well together and create something exceptional.
What feelings does it arouse?
For me, Dom Pérignon is the perfect equilibrium that comes after chaos. There are contradictions in this wine; elements that prevent it from achieving an ideal balance. It is very surprising. It makes me think of something on a rope, like a tightrope walker.
You own several restaurants around the world. What does the art of hosting mean to you?
I've always wanted people to feel at home as soon as they enter my restaurant. I want to welcome them just as I would do at home. This is very important to me. In my restaurants, some of the decorative items actually belong to me.
At the moment, I am looking for new places, and I need to find spaces that I can identify with completely.
In my restaurants, the art of entertaining is about being welcoming and convivial. I like to have drinks trolleys coming and going, with armagnac, petit fours, and cheeses also. I like it when people come together around the trolley and discuss what they want to eat and share.
When you are entertaining at home, do you have a specific ritual?
When I'm entertaining at home, what I’ve said above comes out even more. I think I’m always very generous!
A friend I invited home yesterday told me "in your house, there is always something extra that you don't find elsewhere; a way of entertaining, giving, and being generous that goes beyond what is on the table".
I don't really have a specific ritual, but at home, there is a Japanese-style coffee table with bean bags and cushions on the floor. Everybody sits around it, the dishes are placed at the centre of the table, and everyone can just help themselves. Now everyone is getting a bit older though, I am starting to think that I should get a proper dining table!
In your travels, has one particular way of entertaining stuck in your mind?
I have just returned from a trip to Japan, where I hadn’t been before. I discovered some fabulous things there. I took part in a tea ceremony, where I noticed a lot of self-control, generosity, and respect. This respect for tradition and for the rules of hospitality - I just loved it!
What is your latest gastronomic discovery?
In Japan! I was lucky enough to go to Kyoto, to small restaurants in the middle of nowhere! I enjoyed a kaiseki in a restaurant off the beaten track with a remarkable chef who was quite elderly. He had a philosophy of produce that was incredible. In another restaurant, I experienced only eating beef. I think I ate every single edible part possible! Raw, grilled… it was extraordinary!
What do you have in your fridge?
Christine Ferber's jams. There is also always smoked salmon that as my daughters like to eat that on bread in the morning. Also, fresh eggs for eating soft-boiled in the evening and vegetables in case a soup has to be made. And good butter and cream.
What was the latest item you bought for your house?
This really wasn't sensible, but ten days ago, I bought a beautiful photograph of Romy Schneider in the nude, which I found in a Parisian gallery. I couldn't resist! I had never seen it before. It's the only time she has posed nude, to practise for the nude scenes before the filming of 'That most important thing: love'.
If you could only eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
While watching what work of art?
The Eiffel Tower, lit up.
While listening to what piece of music?
Bach's cello suites. I listen to them all the time; whether I am happy or unhappy, they calm me down.
While reading which book?
'The Life before us', by Romain Gary.