Posted: Jul 19, 2019
The chef and restaurateur Hélène Darroze on cooking, creativity and keeping calm in the kitchen
As a chef and restaurateur, my biggest challenge is time: there are never enough hours in the day. There’s a lot going on at the moment: back in May, I opened my new flagship restaurant in Paris, Marsan by Hélène Darroze; and this September, I’ll reopen Hélène Darroze at the Connaught in London after a two-month refurbishment in honour of its 10th anniversary. There’s plenty to balance, but I’m really lucky because I have a strong team around me.
?When I opened my first restaurant back in 1999 [Restaurant Hélène Darroze in Rue d’Assas, Paris], I had to build a team, teach them the spirit of my cooking and show them my management values too. Here are my golden rules for success in the hospitality industry…
1. The best way to teach someone is by example. My values are very simple: authenticity and respect, sharing and generosity. Respect is about acknowledging when you can’t do something – it means finding the best way to do something together. I never make a decision on my own, but always in consultation with others.
2. Communication in the kitchen is key. I always say, you have to speak with your eyes. It’s not about shouting – of course there will be difficult moments in the kitchen, and at the front of house when you have a lot of people in the dining-room: it’s very intense and can be stressful, so problems can happen. If there’s a mistake, just acknowledge it, keep calm and we’ll try to discuss and repair it.
3. Constantly question yourself. Only this morning, we were testing new dishes: I shared my ideas and explained my vision to my sous-chefs and team, encouraging them to contribute their ideas too. I’m always experimenting with new recipes and questioning myself about what I can do differently. Often, I’ll take my maitre d’, my sommelier and sous-chefs out to dine in another restaurant, or we’ll go abroad to spend time observing the different ways other kitchens work.
4. Create a family culture. Our management in Paris and London speak to each other regularly on the phone – we see ourselves as one big family.
5. Keep your business head on. I was born in, and grew up in, a kitchen, but I didn’t study at a culinary institute – I went to a high-level business school in Bordeaux before I started working in restaurants. That helped me a lot, because I have a business to run – I’m responsible for 120 people and I have to pay them every month, so profitability is really important. I learnt a lot from being at the Connaught especially, because there’s a financial structure, an HR team and so on. When I started out I did everything by instinct, but that changed a lot when I became a mum because I felt really responsible for my little girls.
As told to Frances Hedges
July 19, 2019
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