The French have a phrase for the celebrity chef who is no longer cooking but instead brand building: chef d’enterprise. I can see that this is the next stage in the renaissance of the restaurateur. The age of the restaurateur d’enterprise is upon us.
As I sunk into my chair, the restaurateur who I was there to see, knew exactly what I needed. The man is in tune to guests’ needs. He should be after nearly 20 years running restaurants for others, with partners and now himself. One look from him at my dishevelled Friday night post-office appearance elicited the words “Gin & Tonic”. It wasn’t a question. It was a prescription.
“One does not need not be tied to a stove every night”, but could run the business, mingle with the guests making them feel as if they belong (even if one is not as tactile as Jeremy Lee) and maybe pull a few shifts in the kitchen to help out.
Being a restaurateur is a valid choice, but not as celebrated a choice like our heroic balls-out chef patrons, but it seems no matter where you come from, very few people can really bring all the strands together successfully to run a restaurant anyway. A restaurateur may not be at the stoves, but will have an opinion about the food and that is just one of the 400 things that a restaurateur need care about in any given week.
But the food is at the heart of the restaurant’s success and the restaurateur has a lot of influence over the menu – it is after all the restaurateur’s money funding the business. This was qualified with the need to work positively with creative people in the creative process. And when asked about the tensions that surely creates the response was a shrug, “it’s just the way it is, it’s an issue you’ll face as a restaurateur.”
The real sparkle in this restaurateur’s eyes came from talking about the future, new ideas for the restaurant, ideas for expansion and ways in which to make it all work for everybody.
Without wanting to cement or create stereotypes, my observations are that chefs are creative and chef patrons have opened some beautiful places, but it’s the restaurateur who can see creativity beyond the kitchen and apply it to growing their own food empires.
In an episode of Raymond Blanc’s ‘The Very Hungry Frenchman’, was a segment about Bernard Loiseau and an interview with his widow Dominique who for nearly 10 years since her husband’s suicide has kept his restaurant at 3 Michelin stars and ruled over the food empire he left behind. She has even grown it and is mightily respected in the restaurant industry in France.
Dominique, from what I had previously read about her, and up until seeing the Raymond Blanc program, I imagined as older and burdened with her late husband’s ghost but carried on out of some sense of duty or honour to his memory.
The two perceptions of this woman needed reconciliation and thanks to the power of Twitter I was on a telephone call with the show’s producer who had spent a lot of time before the cameras were rolling getting to know Dominique. I hung on every word during the call as I tried to make sense of how two different pictures could possibly emerge of Dominique so at odds with each other.
The TV show’s producer was just as confused as I was and asked (perhaps rhetorically) if the author who I mentioned had even met Dominique. Dominique Loiseau is not a frail widow consumed by bitterness towards Michelin and beholden to her husband’s memory. She’s a shrewd, savvy and charming force of nature in the culinary business world presiding over a food empire that most English TV chefs would envy.
Her success, apart from steely determinism, is attributable to the French concept of chef d’enterprise. This echoes the idea that food is fashion. The principles of haute-couture are at play even in the kitchens of the grand chefs. Chefs and fashion designers have a lot in common for commercial success.
A chef or restaurateur will have the haute-couture range – their flagship restaurant. Also in the mix is a more accessible, a prêt-à-porter range – their gastropub or local diner. Finally there are the accessories – cookbooks, pots, pans and utensils, perhaps even a TV program. You need all of them to make money out of restaurant enterprise.
I’m watching the restaurateur d’enterprise emerge over the next few years, as that’s where some of the innovation will be found. A stunning woman like Dominique Loiseau shows how it is done.