Darroze’s triumph, meanwhile, crowns a spectacular start to 2021 after her Paris restaurant, Marsan, won two stars in the Michelin guide to France. Nor is the symbolism of two female chefs winning three stars lost on the Landes-born chef, who opened her restaurant at Mayfair’s Connaught hotel in 2007.
“I am particularly proud to receive this award alongside my friend Clare Smyth”, Darroze said. “Of course, it is challenging to work in the male-dominated world of the kitchen, but you must believe in your dream – everything is possible – and most importantly be a woman by staying true to your femininity and the qualities that brings.”
That femininity is to the fore in the restaurant’s 2019 refurb, with the sombre and starchy gentleman’s club vibe swapped out for the loosened-up luxury of curved lines and tactile fabrics. Book a seat at the pink marble chef’s table and you’ll hear the team call Darroze ‘Hélène’ not ‘chef’ as they prepare seven-course tasting menus (from £160) scattered with Cornish lobster, Russian caviar and Japanese wagyu.
Michelin – “the most recognised and respected guide, globally,” in Smyth’s words – began awarding stars in 1926 to support its travel guides. Michelin’s red books were originally a marketing tool to support its tyre business, which is why the definition of its stars makes more sense if you’re in a 2CV in the middle of the Massif Central rather than a cab in Midtown Manhattan.
One star means ‘a very good restaurant’, two is ‘excellent cooking that is worth a detour’, while three is defined as ‘exceptional cooking that is worth a special journey’. Typically one might expect an increase in formality the higher up the star system one dines but the most immediately noticeable thing about both Core and Hélène Darroze is that you won’t see a tablecloth at either restaurant.
While it might seem extraordinary that two women reaching the pinnacle of their profession in the third decade of the 21st century should make the news, the world of fine dining remains depressingly masculine.
Eleven British restaurants have won three Michelin stars since the debut of the GB guide in 1974; the kitchen of only one of those – Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – has ever been headed by a woman. Until now, the closest you’d get to the name of a woman above the door was Pierre Koffmann’s La Tante Claire.
The big trend for the boys, meanwhile, is that the surest way to win a Michelin star is to change your name to Tom. Among the 17 new one stars, Tom Aikens won a star for Muse, as did Tom Brown for Cornerstone and Tommy Banks for The Black Swan, while Tom Sellers won a second star for Restaurant Story