Q&A with two star Michelin chef Hélène Darroze
French culinary whiz Hélène Darroze has taken up residence at At.mosphere restaurant in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa this week.
We caught up with the 47-year-old chef as she put the finishing touches to dishes created especially for diners from this evening until April 30.
Welcome to Dubai chef Darroze, describe the degustation menus you have you created for At.mosphere?
The menu I have created is mainly around the signature dishes of my preferred cuisine like oyster tartare & black rice. I’m also using some favorite produce from my country, the South West of France, like foie gras, calamari and corn-fed chicken. And, of course, there will be plenty of seasonal produce like asparagus and morel too.
I always pay particular attention to the produce I cook with, choosing the best from the market and the best of the season. I really believe that on the plate, the chef is not the star, but the produce is. And so, I created the menus for At.mosphere according to that philosophy.
Single out one of your favourite dishes and describe the process of making it?
The black rice is probably one my most popular signature dishes. It’s something I always have on my menus. Basically, the rice - which is a very special organic Italian rice - is cooked in true Basque style with some squid ink. Then I roast some calamari (which is one of the most important products from Saint-Jean de Luz – the Basque country in France where I source my products). I then deglaze the pan with lemon juice and olive oil to cook a bitter jus which will contrast with the richness of the creamy rice. I also add confit tomatoes and parsley. To finish the dish I’ll pour a Parmigiano emulsion on top of the rice as a wink to the Italian risotto.
You are a fourth generation chef, was it a voluntary decision to enter the culinary world?
I’ve always liked cooking and eating. I started baking pastries when I was 6 and never stopped since. That said, I am part of a generation who, in the 1990s, didn’t hold being a chef in particularly high-regard, especially if you were a good student like I was. Plus, in my family only the men became chefs and the gastronomic field was dominated by them. So I studied at university until I was 24 and then joined the team of (three Michelin star French chef) Alain Ducasse in Monaco. I started with him in the kitchen and straight away I realized that this was my world. And at the end of the day, I think my family was happy that I became a chef.
Do you have aspirations for your two daughters to follow in your footsteps?
My daughters are very young (7 and 5 years old). They love cooking with me and they are real foodies. But I don’t have any aspirations for them, except for them both to be happy with their lives.
Can you share one of your most memorable experiences from your time working under chef Ducasse?
Yes, probably the first service I spent in his kitchen. I was completely hypnotized by what I saw; the work of the chefs, their coordination (there were 25), the concentration etc. It was just like a ballet. And of course I was so impressed by the quality of the food, the attention to detail. That first service is something that I will never forget.
I was also very impressed when we welcomed Monaco’s royal family to the restaurant. It was Princess Charlotte Casiraghi’s birthday (she was probably 5 or 6 at this time) and Alain Ducasse asked me to give a present to her on his behalf which was very intimidating.
Describe the moment you received news of your Michelin stars?
I was in New York when news of the two Michelin stars in Paris came through. I was cooking for a special event and because my restaurant in Paris was still fairly new, I asked my father to oversee operations in my absence. So it was actually he who first received the news. He called me straight away, even though it was the middle of the night my time. He was crying so much, because he was so happy, that he could not speak and I thought that something serious had happened in the family. But ultimately, it was one of the biggest joys of my life, and also a huge frustration as I was alone in my hotel room and couldn’t share the moment with my team or family.
What do you make of Dubai and its restaurant scene?
I am very excited to cook in Dubai. It is the first time for me and I hope it won’t be the last. Plus, cooking in the tallest restaurant in the world is completely unique! The Dubai scene is so exciting when you see it from London or Paris. It seems that the most talented chefs and the most amazing restaurants of the world are concentrated in this city. I’m keen to rediscover many of the chefs whom I’ve known from Paris, London or the States. I’m really interested to see how they’ve adapted and performed here. I also must admit that I harbour a dream to become part of the Dubai restaurant scene. Not just as a pop-up, but as a more permanent restaurant.
To book a table at At.mosphere in Burj Khalifa call +97148883444 or go to www.atmosphereburjkhalifa.com