Together with her husband Philippe, Fabienne Amzalak runs three restaurants in Paris, all of which have become household names. The couple started with the Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Philippe Starck-designed BON in September 2008, followed by Ma Cocotte in September 2012, another Starck creation, and most recently, the Tom Dixon-designed Éclectic, which officially opened in January this year. All three serve simple fare but in fun and stylish surroundings. A fourth restaurant is underway in the renovated Forum des Halles in the center of Paris that’s set to open in spring 2015. Amzalak took some time out of her busy schedule to chat about how she got into the restaurant world, the key to success and what’s next.
Why did you choose the restaurant business?
I followed my husband in his projects and I slowly found my role; and now we are complementary.
How long have you been in the business?
I completely immersed myself since we took over BON, a place that I loved. Redesigning it in collaboration with Starck, and especially relaunching it, was a beautiful adventure — a real challenge.
What did you do before?
I worked in fashion as a booker for the magazine Madame Figaro, where I spent some really great years producing fashion pages. Then I was a media buyer in advertising when, much to my own happiness, my husband asked me to join the venture.
Do you have a goal with regard to current food trends in Paris?
No, I think it would be pretentious on my part to want to guide the Parisian food trends. For us, it is especially important to develop concepts in unique venues, places we feel attracted to. Our aim, first and foremost, is that our clientele feels good and finds what it’s looking for.
What is the most important aspect of a restaurant for you?
There are three things: First what’s on the plate, then the service — that warm and discreet service that we like — and last, the atmosphere, which the décor is a part of.
What is the key to your success?
I’m not sure we can talk in terms of success as such; but in any case, our motto is to make people happy and that’s what we’re looking to do: to make people feel good, have a good time and make them want to come back, which is the best present we can ask for.
With your three restaurants so far, what do you hope to bring to the Parisian dining scene?
We try to bring something different and original in places that are unusual. Parisians, contrarily to Anglo-Saxons, are a lot more conservative and stay in their neighborhood and we have maybe awakened their curiosity.
Your first project was BON, then Ma Cocotte and finally Éclectic. Do you have other projects in your portfolio?
We took over the Maison du Danemark (House of Denmark) on the Champs-Élysées including its three sections — boutique, brasserie and the gourmet restaurant — for a while. It was a very beautiful adventure.
For each of your restaurants, you have chosen internationally renowned designers — why Philippe Starck? Why Tom Dixon?
Starck because we bought his restaurant [BON], and we liked him and wanted to refurbish the restaurant with him; to work with a star in the design industry is a real privilege. We also fell in love with the couple — Philippe [Starck] and his wife Jasmine, are like us: always together — and working with them is just a huge pleasure. For Ma Cocotte, they were the ones who suggested the project to us and we followed with our eyes closed. As for Tom [Dixon], we loved his work, his lighting and especially his light. We contacted him and went to London to meet him and see his work, and everything just went from there. Working with them was a huge pleasure, a huge surprise with regard to their perpetual creativity — everything can change and evolve permanently.
Do you have any future projects?
First of all, we are focused on Éclectic and on keeping things running smoothly at BON and Ma Cocotte. Next for us will be a place in the new “hole” at Les Halles — but we still have a while yet.
For your new project you’ve chosen Philippe Starck again. Why not another designer?
For the new project we chose to work with Starck again mainly because his first [restaurant] creation was in Les Halles [Café Costes], just steps away from the site of our project. It amused us to ask him to go back to his roots.
How do you see Paris and its restaurants?
There is a fantastic choice in Paris, between the Michelin-starred chefs (we love exploring their work more and more), the bistros and foreign food. However, in comparison to other big capital cities, Paris remains very conservative, even bourgeois.
Your restaurants aside, what are your three favorite places to dine?
Pierre Gagnaire’s Gaya on rue du Bac, Hôtel Costes (the nirvana of the Parisienne) and Woo Jung, an extraordinary gourmet Korean restaurant.
Are you from Paris?
I was actually born in Senegal, where I lived for 16 years. That’s probably what makes me a little different. We actually bought a house there and go as often as possible.
Do you see yourself as a Parisienne?
Yes, but only in the sense that I live here and I love this city.
What is being a Parisienne?
It’s making the most of Paris, of one’s cultural choices, of its effervescence and its eclecticism.
Do you have a dream with regard to your career?
Perhaps not a dream as such, but in any case my husband and I will end our careers with our own hotel.
Photos Courtesy of Ma Cocotte Salle du Restaurant and Philippe and Fabienne Amzalak