Hélène Darroze : the «Wonder Woman» of French cuisine

Hélène Darroze (43), the most famous French female chef, surprised everyone when she moved from Paris to London 2008 to oversee the cuisine at the revamped Connaught hotel, which has just gained its second Michelin star under her direction. Despite coming from an old family of restaurateurs, she first chose to study business, before being discovered at the age of 25 by celebrated chef Alain Ducasse while she worked as a manager at his Monaco hotel. Since then, she has won three Michelin stars, inspired a Disney character in Ratatouille, adopted two little girls in Vietnam and wrote a bestselling book.

My main character trait: Generosity.

My worst character trait: The same. I tend to give too much, too quickly and some people take advantage of that.

My main quality: Honesty combined with fairness.

If I could change something in myself: I wouldn’t mind losing a stone and a half!

The quality I appreciate most in a man: Kindness.

The quality I appreciate most in a woman: Frankness.

What I appreciate most in my friends: Their honesty towards themselves and others.

The weakness I am most likely to forgive: A fondness of food.

How I relax: Ideally by travelling to India. I am passionate about this country and have found a serenity and a sense of calm there which I have never found anywhere else.

My idea of happiness: To be able to be true to myself and to live fully my passions, which are my family, my friends and my work as a chef.

My earliest memory: I was practically born in the kitchen so it is linked with food. I remember in particular going to the farm in the morning and to the food market on Wednesdays.

My best memory: The 10th of July 2007, the day I met Charlotte for the first time at the orphanage in Hanoi. We spent the following two weeks holed up in the fabulous Métropole hotel, just the two of us… That has been so far the most magnificent time of my life.

What would be the worst that could happen to me (apart from losing someone close): If I was forced to do something that was contrary to my beliefs and values, then I would be devastated. I can’t stand the idea of not being able to look at myself in the mirror.

My biggest regret: Generally speaking, I am not one to have any regret and when I do something wrong, I try to make it right straight away. That said, I probably do have some regrets about the fact that I didn’t become a chef by following the traditional way, and chose instead to study business. As a result, I didn’t have train in some of the best restaurants in France and wish I had been able to experience how some of the great chefs work.

What I wanted to do when I was a child: Everything! But I particularly wanted to become a surgeon, as I dreamt of curing people and of saving lives.

The animal I would be: My sheepdog, Spazziari. He was the mascot at my restaurant in Paris and was wonderful till the day he died. I would have loved to be him not only because he had a great life and was very much loved, but also because he gave so much affection and happiness to those around him.

My favourite books: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and The Life before us by Romain Gary.

My favourite actors: Robert De Niro and Romy Schneider.

My favourite films: The Mission (Roland Joffé), Once Upon in America (Sergio Leone), César and Rosalie (Claude Sautet) and The Last Métro (François Truffaut).

My favourite songs: “Que je t’aime” and “L’envie” by Johnny Hallyday -not because he is a dear friend but because I find those songs beautiful- as well as “Mon p’tit Loup” and “Lili” by Pierre Perret.

My favourite hero in fiction: Scarlett O’Hara. She is very different from me and I certainly don’t approve of what she does but, she is quite a formidable character. She definitely made an impression on me when I was a teenager

People I most admire in real life: All those who give their life, time and energy to help others and make the world a better place, without expecting anything in return.

My favourite names: Charlotte and Quiterie, my daughters’ names. Charlotte was also the name of my grandmother and Quiterie is an old French name from the Landes region where I come from. If I had had a boy, I would have named him Louis or Balthazar: I absolutely love the Balthazar restaurant in New York, so that might be why!

My most treasured object: My gold cross pendant, which I always wear. It was a present for my first communion from my grandmother, whom I adored. She used all the gold she had in her house to have it made and I feel like that by wearing it, I have my grandmother with me. One of the last things she said before dying was that I should look after this cross, not so much because it was precious but because it would be like a guide for me.

My favourite place: It has to be the Taj Mahal, which made an incredibly strong impression on me. Generally speaking, I love all places of worship, from Catholic churches to Hindu temples, as they make me feel at peace.

The perfume I wear: N° 18, which is an “Exclusif” by Chanel. I discovered it by chance when I was asked by French Vogue to test some perfumes. It is sold only in Chanel shops and has a delicious pear scent.

What makes me really angry: Liars.

My biggest success so far : I don’t have any real sense of achievement, as I believe that life is mostly about questioning oneself on a daily basis and never taking anything for granted.

My biggest fear: The thought that people I love will die.

My definition of love: The ability to accept the other person exactly as she is, with no desire to change this person.

My definition of beauty: In my eyes, inner beauty is more important that physical appearances. Beauty needn’t be perfect but should leave one speechless.

How I would like to die: Without suffering and as old as possible.

How I would like to be remembered: As someone who was fair.

My current state of mind: Happy.

My motto: “No one will steal what I danced from me”, which is the title of my book. It basically means that you should live your life to the full, but in such a manner that you will bear no regrets.