My name is Gary Prebble and my wife Jane and I own a small French bistro in Redfern, Sydney, called Bistro St Jacques.
“That must be hard work!” I hear a lot of customers say with an empathetic, tired expression, referring to owning and running a restaurant. But people are also very curious and interested. I usually respond with something along the lines of “Everyone works hard. That is not the point. It is if you want to do the thing, or not.” I have wanted to do this for a long time: to own a restaurant. I’m a sucker for the romance of it all. You know how it is when you walk around a city like Paris or Florence or Melbourne, and you look into those little restaurants and they look so inviting, so beautiful, such a nice place to be for a few hours of the week or month. A good restaurant, to feel human again. To feel restored (the root of the word restaurant).
I chose a French-themed bistro in part because when I started professional cooking over 25 years ago, I had already discovered the books of Elizabeth David, a wonderful English writer whose evocative prose unearthed a deep love I had for the seasonal, simple and very humble food that epitomises the hospitality traditions of Southern Europe, particularly French and Italian cuisines.
I just never really “got over it” from when I did my chef training and read the David books. There is so much to love about the cuisines of the Southern European cultures. The love of place (provenance), the family, the connection to nature, the sharing and social warmth, the beauty and elegance of a French dessert (crème brûlée!), sauces (hollandaise, aioli, bordelaise…), and you have the wines of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Provence… Well, just a little hedonism at the end of a busy work week…?
This also resonated with how I grew up in New Zealand, where my parents were market growers and we ate mostly from our family garden, had chickens, and all that stuff urban people are gooey about now. The town where I went to high school is called Katikati, which translates as “nibble nibble”.
After some years in the (nasty, dusty, chemical-ridden) surfboard manufacturing industry, I was a chef for many years, and would have regular sabbaticals as a waiter. For, unlike many chefs, who, from my experience, tend to be high on introversion, I always enjoyed the interplay of social dynamism in the dining room and the theatre of restaurant service - quite different from the type of drama found in the kitchen, but more on that in later posts.
In future posts I hope to share with you some of the daily challenges and joys of operating a restaurant in the era of the chef (Netflix, Chef’s Table, MasterChef, etc. etc.), an era of faddish diets, and era of Google where everyone knows what’s what with food and wine. I hope you find it interesting.
Speak to you soon, and please post responses and requests for future blog topics for discussion below.