December 13 2011
Usually, my day starts late and is often a continuation of the work achieved the night before. I have been a restaurateur for more than 20 years, so my routine is to work until the early hours, when I am at my most creative. This morning, however, I had to wake up extremely early for a doctor’s appointment in Paris and then catch my train back to London at 10am.
My life has been spilt between Paris, London and Beirut for many years now. In Paris, I have 404, my original North African restaurant; Andy Wahlou, a North African take on a pop-art café, which I created as an indulgence to myself and has proved a roaring success (“Wahlou” in Arabic means “I have nothing”); and Derrière, a restaurant and bar which I created literally behind 404 (hence the name) when I discovered that my storage space could be a restaurant. I turned the furniture stored there on its feet and now it’s full every night. Anyway, I digress, a habit I am fond of...
My waking hours are spent predominantly planning the design and (hopefully) the subsequent atmosphere of my venues in my head. I want everything to be exactly how I envisage it to be. Last week, I was in Paris for personal matters but I went to my restaurants every day because I cannot help it. Perhaps you could call me a control freak; I prefer micro manager – the English are always emphasising my attention to detail. The devil is in the detail, I say, and I cannot function any other way. Hence I spent Saturday rummaging in the flea markets in St Ouen and Sunday afternoon installing some new furniture at Derrière.
I am content when I create, whether it’s designing or dressing a physical space, or perhaps collaborating with a chef on a new menu. It’s all about moving forward, constantly evolving, hence why Sketch is ever changing. When I told everyone the name I had chosen for Sketch, people thought I was crazy. But like a sketch, you can rub out the edges and rework them – so this made sense to me and this is what I do daily.
Punctuality has never been my forte but today I arrived on time at my first meeting with my business partner for Sketch and then the ball kept rolling for the rest of the day. Miraculous – truly. We’re currently collaborating on a project with the Turner prize-winning artist Martin Creed, which I’m incredibly excited about. It will be a fantastic project for Sketch and we hope to install it in February 2012 – I love the fact that the boundaries between art, food, design and functionality will be blurred and experimented with; the room will be unrecognisable. It will consist of 96 different types of marble zigzagging across the floor, along with large-scale wall paintings. My favourite part is that every single individual piece of cutlery, every table and chair will be handpicked by Martin, myself and my team for the project.
I then raced to Ilyas’ (my six-year-old son) school to meet his new teacher. Since his birth, my family have experienced a rather nomadic lifestyle, which I prefer, and he has travelled extensively with us. Last year, we all lived in Beirut (one of the world’s greatest cities) while I set up Momo at The Souks. Now my son will have to conform to a more traditional childhood – he has been enrolled in the British system of education.
I returned to Sketch for the remainder of the afternoon to assess the progress of the aforementioned Creed collaboration with my curator at Sketch, Victoria. There are so many details to finalise, but I thrive during this process.
The day ended with me popping into a friend’s party in The Parlour at Sketch, Gigi. Gigi is the daughter of Joseph, who created the brand of the same name. Joseph was a key inspiration and mentor to me and some of my happiest memories are of us sharing traditional couscous at Momo and discussing the world at large. At those moments I almost felt I had been transported back to North Africa.
Never being able to relax in my own venues (some say I am never able to relax anywhere), I supervised the operation – the staff, the food being served – and then my energy waned so I returned home and flopped into bed, vaguely satisfied with the achievements of the day.