Fine Living | Diary of a Somebody

Mourad Mazouz

Why the celebrated restaurateur doesn’t like poaching

Mourad Mazouz

December 14 2011
Mourad Mazouz

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

I know that it will sound quite contrary to what I said yesterday, but for the second day in a row I woke up extremely early this morning, to go to a vintage furniture fair in Sunbury with my design team on the Martin Creed project. It felt like the end of the world at 5am; each kilometre felt like a hundred. We were looking for incredible pieces of furniture for our project at Sketch. We had previously been there two weeks ago but we had arrived too late – at 9am – and the best things had already been purchased; hence I resolved to make a supreme effort and arrive “a little earlier”.

Annoyingly we didn’t find as many items as we wished, but the prices were incredible value. It was definitely worth the effort of defying the relentless rain at 7am. I relished the unique atmosphere of being in the car park of a race track as the sun rose and the rain ceased while I gently haggled (a North African way of life) and analysed the viability of each piece of furniture for our project.

We returned to London by midday starving and I grabbed a sandwich at Momo in the Mo Café. The Mo Café was created by accident as I needed a larger kitchen at Momo restaurant, so acquired the site next door to extend the kitchen in the basement and was left with an empty shop floor above. I decided to use it as an informal café serving light meals and, of course, limitless mint tea and deliciously indulgent North African patisserie. I filled the space with artefacts and trinkets I had found on my travels and began to retail them. It is a corner of “home” just off Regent Street and always packed. We joke that the only things not for sale are the staff (I hope!)

When in London, I cannot spend too long here without visiting Momo, and due to the fact that I was in Paris last week, while I had my speedy lunch, I checked that the operation was running smoothly. Being the Christmas period, all manner of events are being held there – particularly in the bar named simply Downstairs at Momo. It’s an exciting, vibrant time.

As always, I ordered a couple of additional mezze to check the quality and I was surprised by the amazing flavour of the lamb. It is funny how after so many years I am still overwhelmed by some North African flavours. Some think that North African cuisine is a basic, coarse cuisine, but they are so wrong – it offers a wide and varied array of fragrant, delicate dishes that are often light. At Momo, many of the dishes are French in preparation but simply use North African ingredients.

At 1pm, I run to Sketch to interview a candidate for a position at the venue. Wow, I know I can chat, but this guy gives even me a run for my money! My ever-patient assistant becomes exasperated as the meeting rolls on and on – I enjoy chatting to this person enormously; so much so, I start to delay the rest of the afternoon’s meetings – a common occurrence in my life. One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to meet so many skilled people from so many walks of life – fascinating. I also firmly believe in living in the present/in the moment; hence perhaps I have no concept of timekeeping – but life is amazing when you live this way.

Finally I get round to the second interview of the afternoon with a young chef who will finish his studies at the end of the year and who would like to be an apprentice at Sketch. When I can, I always help young and motivated people to learn in my restaurants as long as they are not going to be a pain for us. This results in building a team populated with many young and creative people.

In fact, I spend a great deal of my time training the people who work with me as I like to recruit them from other industries than just hospitality. They are often new to the restaurant business, they don’t carry all the bad habits of old and tend to be very enthusiastic about everything. However, the downside of this is that, once I have trained these individuals, the larger corporates regularly poach them from us.

I had a bad experience with a leading five-star hotel in Knightsbridge who poached lots of key employees from Sketch last summer by offering them nearly double their salary. I guess it is just part of the game, but I wish that at least we could institute a type of transfer system, perhaps like the football industry. There would be period where you could bid for the employees and, more importantly, you would get a percentage of the price they are being bought for to remunerate for the hours of training. A pipe dream, I know.

The day ended answering emails and letters as I leave for Italy tomorrow. It really dawned on me that Christmas is coming as I opened various cards; I am pleased. I stayed in the office quite late as I was, of course, running late. I took the opportunity of a quiet moment, seated at my desk, to prepare some design boards for my restaurants, Sketch, and Momo At The Souks which just opened in Beirut.

Later I returned home for a delicious family supper, which my partner Caroline prepared. She loves cooking and she does not miss the opportunity to do so.