December 16 2011
In Milan still. This morning I was awoken by the bells of the Duomo di Milano cathedral, my hotel being just behind it. It has been a long time since I have been awoken by anything but my mobile and my assistant’s high-pitched voice excitedly telling me how late I am for my first meeting.
My mind was still dancing with images of the people sashaying at the Armani club. I was amazed by how Milanese people party on a Wednesday night.
Indeed the balance of work as a restaurateur (late nights, charming clients, always hosting “a party”) and family is probably the biggest challenge for me. My first son is in his twenties – I adore him and hate to accept that he is very like me, but all my friends insist he is a dreamer, “head in the clouds”, as we say in French. I also have two younger children who are six and two. I like to think that I approach fatherhood philosophically – there to support when needed, not to smother, but allowing my kids the freedom to develop. However, when my little girl wants something from daddy, I melt and give in. This might be a problem as she gets older!
Anyway, today I immersed myself in my favourite professional pastime – studying contemporary design. I found myself in the Zona Tortona because I have a friend who has a design studio there so he showed me his collection, very diverse and very different from what is currently on the market. We discussed the Italian trends for a while around an espresso, then two and three. After that, he took me for lunch in the new zone, we had a fantastic risotto in a small local restaurant. The Zona Tortona is very different in the “normal days”, compared with design week. There are a lot of very innovative and quite extraordinary boutiques.
I then walked to Rinascente, the big department store because the CEO, Vittorio Radice, is a good friend of mine. He used to be the director of Selfridges; that’s how I met him a couple of years ago, in London. Unfortunately he was in the UK. Bad timing. Anyway, while I was there, I bought some presents for my kids because I love hanging around this sublime place. I always try to bring back a souvenir for my kids when I am away because they keep on asking me why I am not home so at least I give them a good reason to like the idea of seeing me going away and coming back. I am completely conscious that it is very hypocritical but it works.
Then I returned to my hotel and ordered a cab to Malpensa airport which is an hour’s drive from the centre. Another good opportunity for catching up on the never-ending list of phone calls to return. I called Rania, the superb general manager of Momo at The Souks, in Beirut as we are currently organising our first end-of-year events. There will be a lot going on in that city in the run-up to New Year's Eve. Beirut, the city where they know how to party; there is this sense of abandon after all the conflicts – it’s as if people say, “Tonight we party, for who knows what tomorrow may bring?” I have spent many nights after dancing for hours watching the sunrise on the beach.
I sort of hate New Year’s Eve parties – too obvious, too forced, too staged – so I decided that we would organise big parties on December 28, 29 and 30 so that people have less expectations, they can get completely trashed and can also be free on New Year’s Eve. We are organising a masked ball, in the Venetian style, very chic, on the 29th with the trendy Cotton Candy organisers. Djette and Jimmy are the coolest socialites of the Lebanese capital and with them, we can always be sure that everybody is having great fun and that the party goes far beyond all our expectations. I love seeing our guests dancing on the bar, on the sofa, becoming wild in a way and losing themselves in the moment.
On the plane, I just read the magazines I had bought in Italy. I love compiling interesting pieces of furniture for the people working on my many different projects. I usually don’t give them the brands, it is all about the spirit I want to recreate.
After that, I have to say that I was quite happy to simply return home, see my family, play with the kids before bedtime and crash in front of The Killing – I am addicted.
Tomorrow I have another busy day ahead. Same as always when I return from a trip abroad, the meetings are just accumulating. Also because I am so close to the staff of my restaurants, there are always two or three who want to have a word with me, discussing issues or giving suggestions for improving the service, the look of the room or simply their work. It is all about exchanges and listening to the people you work with.