LA CUISINE HELENE
Byline: Sarah Raper
PARIS — Lunch is being cleared at Paris’s hottest new restaurant, and Helene Darroze is standing in her apron in the kitchen with a glass of red wine in one hand and her eyes glued to the screen of her laptop.
“I’m organizing my recipes to be on Joel Robuchon’s TV show,” she explains. With a charming smile and friendly manner, the blond 32-year-old Darroze is a natural at cooking for the cameras. Add her purebred gastronomical background (she’s a fourth-generation chef from the southwest of France) and her three years training under Alain Ducasse at the Louis XV in Monte Carlo, and it’s no wonder that Restaurant Helene Darroze, her new place on the Left Bank at 4 Rue d’Assas, is taking off.
“What sticks with me the most from Ducasse is his attention to the choice of the ingredients. It’s at least 60 or 70 percent of his success,” Darroze says. “And you must know how to be humble behind the products.”
In many ways, the cooking style she learned from her father and that practiced by Ducasse have much in common. “It’s a cuisine that’s elaborate, with long cooking times,” she explains. “It’s very savory.
It is not an everything-for-everyone cuisine.”
Darroze’s great-grandfather founded the Hotel des Voyageurs in Villeneuve in the Landes region of southwestern France in 1895, but she took a business degree from a prestigious school in Bordeaux and started in Ducasse’s accounting department. Darroze quickly migrated to the kitchen, and after her stint with Ducasse, she returned and took over the family restaurant from her dad.
Darroze longed to give Paris a try, so in September the family decided to close the doors in Villeneuve. Already, her father has come up to Paris for a few days to help out in the kitchen. Darroze’s younger brother, a trained enologist and Armagnac dealer, put together the wine list, which features young vintners, some from the emerging Languedoc region.
The new place, done up in purple velvet, has a menu rich in the foods of Darroze’s native southwest — dishes like grilled duck foie gras with roasted fruits and Brebis cheese with truffles.
Downstairs there’s a prix fixe canteen with more rustic dishes that change daily, like confit de canard with daube de cepes and lamb ragout with beans. Sturdy wooden tables and chairs stand against the yellow walls, and there are no tablecloths — just a cluster of red apples as a centerpiece. Already it’s proving to be a strong draw for Paris’s younger set.
Critics have been sharing the dining room with the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Kristin Scott Thomas and Alber Elbaz, but Darroze knows there’s only one recipe for staying power in Paris.
“All that counts,” she says, “is what’s on the plate.”