'Cook with heart, not talent'

„Don't call me 'chef,' that's not my name,” says Helen Daros, her reaction whenever people approach her using her profession as an honorific.

Most would be in awe of someone with six Michelin stars, a cornerstone of the French version of the culinary competition „Top Chef,” and named the world's best female chef in 2015 on the annual „50 Best” list.

Nearly three decades after she broke onto the culinary scene as a rising — and rare female — star, Taros' recipe for success remains unchanged.

„Be honest with the produce, work with local foods and seasonality,” he says. „My mission is to put the product at its best around taste and emotion.”

That's what he credits for a meteoric rise that began long before he arrived in Paris a quarter of a century ago to open his first eponymous restaurant, now called Marsan Bar Hélène Darous after a 2019 renovation.

A 1990 graduate of the Sup de Co business school in Bordeaux, he set his sights on hospitality management, but an experience in the kitchens of Alain Ducasse at the Louis XV at the Hôtel de Paris in Monte-Carlo saw him move into the kitchens.

Five years later, he took over the family restaurant „Chess Tauros” in southwest France. Nominated as „Young Chef of the Year” and „Great of Tomorrow” by Gastronomic Guides within 12 months, in 1996 he was chosen to host lunch for then French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

At Hélène Darroze in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood of Paris, she marveled at the produce from the southwestern regions of France and became a gourmet. The first Michelin star came in 2001, the second came in 2003, but was lost in 2010.

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„Nothing ever wins,” he says. „Every day is a new day where we have to question ourselves, and that's what we do.”

But the restaurant's reopening after the pandemic brought about a change — and that second star returned in 2021.

„It's a maturing effect,” she feels.

This makes Marson not only „the restaurant of his dreams” but also the focus of his team, which includes the Parisian Bistro Gia, his one-Michelin-star restaurant at Villa La Coste in Provence, and the three-star „The Connaught at Hélène Taro's London”, where he oversees every culinary aspect of the property. Supervises.

Then, as now, her philosophy was simple.

„I cook like a woman, like a mother – for generosity, for happiness – not to prove something or to be the best. [a] Technique,” he says. „I cook to please people.”

That brought a challenge she willingly shares: her team calls her „Helene” rather than chef. „You can't imagine how hard it is to get my employees to call me by my name,” he says.

But two decades later, as a capitalization and embodiment of his name, the restaurant reopened as Marson, the name of the southwestern French region that includes the town where he was born and where four generations of his family have established restaurateurs since 1895.

„I had a feeling I had to change the name,” he says. „This is my way of paying tribute to my roots, my family.”

For all the Michelin stars he's earned, Taurus' path is one of „professional life and no personal life,” so intertwined are the two spheres.

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That's evident in his first book, an autobiography of sorts, published in 2005; It came with love letters and recipes and friends tried to talk her into publishing it. „It was so personal that they felt it opened me up to criticism,” he recalls.

And the kitchen, in all his establishments, is at the center of family life, as it has been for generations of Taros.

Her daughters Charlotte and Quiteri, now 16 and 14, spent many moments after school or Saturday nights sitting in their mother's office playing ballet in the kitchen.

„So many days, nights, moments – even my parents spent many Christmases in my office in Connaught – there's a mix of everything,” he recalls. „My girls were talking about it recently, and there was sadness in their voices.”

If every startup is a professional milestone, Taros is eager to talk about what he's learned from them. Take Zia, which he opened in 2018. „For me it's a new way of cooking, welcoming people,” he says. „This is the first time I have come in contact with bistronomy and not fine dining.”

For his latest project, Tito, he took on the culinary direction of two restaurants, La Grande Brasserie and La Grande Table Marroquine, at the prestigious Royal Mansour Hotel in Marrakech.

On paper, they promise a masterful foray into French fare and Moroccan cuisine, respectively. On Taros' Instagram, her experience has been an amazing journey through the cooking and knowledge of the country's products and the female chefs she's met. „I come back like an apprentice to learn,” says the chef.

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Participating and imparting knowledge led her to the French version of the cooking competition „Top Chef”.

Initially reluctant to join its judging panel – he lived in London and was not a TV watcher – he came on board when the production explained that chefs should serve as coaches rather than judges and actually interact with candidates.

„It was an opportunity to do my work in a different way,” he says. „I also accepted because it was new, different and fun in my life, but mainly it was about exchange.”

Signing up for the 15th season, his ninth appearance on French screens since mid-March, the two-month shooting session became „friendship, exchange and a little break from my everyday life”. she says. „And with [fellow chefs] Dominic [Crenn] And Stephanie [Le Quellec]That's just the cherry on the cake.

Then he has to share with the candidates. Hearing Danny Khezzar, a finalist of the 2023 edition, say that Taros made him understand the importance of emotion and showing it in addition to stellar technique, thrilled her.

„I was very happy to hear that, because I believe that cooking with your heart is more important than cooking with your skills.”

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