INTERVIEW – The juror of “Top Chef”, being broadcast on M6, who has just been awarded a sixth Michelin star, has also concocted a gastronomic menu for Costa cruises.
As we soon reach the halfway point of the 13th season of “Top Chef” on M6, the 8th for Hélène Darroze, the cook is delighted to have obtained a star for her restaurant Villa La Coste, in Le Puy- Sainte-Reparade in Provence. She also talks about her contribution to the gastronomic menus now offered by Costa cruises, on the Costa Smeralda and Costa Toscana ships.
TV MAGAZINE. – When we already have five stars, do we rejoice as much at the announcement of a sixth?
Helene DARROZE.- Yes, it has the same value as the restaurant has only been open for a few months. We put a lot of energy and heart into it. And I am proud to say that 95% of the products used come from a maximum of 250 km around. It is a real environmental approach. Really, it tastes just like a first star!
What attracted you to Costa’s proposal?
First of all, the idea of bringing a gastronomic touch to a popular offer, in particular because of its price, interested me. Then, I wanted to work with two other chefs, Angel Leon and Bruno Barbieri: crossing our three worlds was a unique experience for me. There was also the prospect of creating dishes inspired by destinations with my vision, my personality, like this roast octopus with Greek spices, hummus, piquillo pepper cream, green sauce. It’s quite lively because we will renew them every year. Finally, their sustainable approach. Because we have the responsibility, as cooks, to be an example and to deliver this message by advocating short circuits, seasonal products… It is a sine qua non condition for me. And there are also constraints on a boat that challenged me, such as the question of supplies.
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How did you approach the theme of the eastern Mediterranean, did you have any memories, achievements in relation to this region?
No, I screwed up! Admittedly, I knew it, through the restaurants, the tastes, the flavors, the products, but I went to the cities of destination.
Which traveler are you?
My vacation destinations are studied according to the markets that I will be able to discover, the offer of restaurants or street-food. I recently went to Rome for five or six days: of course we visited the city, especially since I had never been there, but there was also a whole culinary and gastronomic journey. My next vacation is planned in New York. I’m going to visit an experimental farm there on permaculture and animal husbandry. I also chose to go there because I will soon be back on the take-out burger offer that I had developed during the pandemic. It’s sometimes a bit annoying for my daughters because, if they love to eat, they are a little less fond of markets! But now, my holidays are always linked to gastronomic discoveries…
You had brought back flavors from Vietnam where you stayed for the adoption of your daughters…
Yes, one of my signature dishes is called “Retour d’Hanoi”. Another corresponds to a trip to India. I always report something. I cook from what I’m made of, and I’m also made of my travels. Even if precisely I do not take enough time to travel. Each of my meals is a story that speaks of me.
Is the region that inspires you the most still the Basque Country?
More broadly, the whole of the south-west, the Spanish Basque Country, inspires me through the products, because these are my roots, my family. But I am also influenced, in my restaurant in London, by products from the United Kingdom, Scotland and Wales. Italy also influenced me a lot because I worked for three years with Monsieur Ducasse in Monaco. An Italian chef often welcomed me into his family.
Cooking can also be a journey through time: what is your Proust madeleine?
Roasted Landes yellow chicken with large duck fat fries.
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What pleasure do you take in continuing the adventure of “Top chef”?
It’s a wonderful program that conveys human values that are dear to me: transmission, duty, questioning, going to the end of yourself. I like the creative part too of course. Each year, the candidates are more and more involved. And these two very time-consuming months of filming give me a break from my daily life where I laugh a lot.
Do you sometimes learn from candidates?
This year yes, especially in their environmental approach. They may be less technical than last year, but they have a very interesting personal view of things.
What does having a business school do for you? Should a leader also be a business man or woman?
I do not know. But a chief has economic obligations, accounts to balance at the end of the month. These studies gave me a way of thinking, analyzing and anticipating. But, when I went to this school, I did not know that I would cook one day and I sometimes regret not having followed a more traditional path of learning in this field. At the same time, my cooking is more instinctive than technical, it’s an approach that characterizes me and interests me!