« Sois fainéant, tu vivras longtemps ! » – Be lazy and you’ll live longer – is a song by French comedian Coluche which has become Chef Alexandre Bourdas’ motto. He would rather have a good time than make money, and make people happy cooking food than suffer processing it. And he shares this state of mind with clients and employees. A truly original corporate culture focussing on well-being, in the restaurant and outside.
There have been two key moments in Alexandre Bourdas’ life as cook, and both took place at Michel Bras’ restaurant. The first time he was still a teenager and experienced his “first Michelin-star meal in a top-notch restaurant” in the heart of Aubrac, with his locally-born and raised mother and Normandy-born father. He remembers this moment as one of his dearest family memories.
The second moment was one of his professional memories. Alexandre Bourdas has worked alongside celebrated Chefs, most notably Régis Marcon, Michel Guérard and Michel Bras. Its is while working with the latter, whom he describes as “a Chef who follows his instincts and chooses what he wants to achieve,” that Alexandre understood that “there isn’t only one way of cooking food” and that each Chef can create his own cuisine.
Family, friendship, free time
What he wants « is to earn not money but time. » At the two restaurants he heads, SaQuaNa (2 Michelin stars, in Honfleur, Normandy) and Pascade (a bistro / food kitchen with excellent Michelin reviews – Bib Gourmand selection), he strives to be “the best and most scrupulous manager, without obsessing about profit, and to enjoy cooking to give others satisfaction.”
The satisfaction of clients of course, but also that of his employees, who can reach their full potential and enjoy their work because their boss has decided to hire enough people for everyone to have time for themselves. “Better have four people trimming green beans than two – and then each of us will have the time to go to a friend’s birthday party, or their daughter’s dance school recital!” In kereping with this emphasis on free time, employees only work 4 days a week, a highly unusual workload in any industry, but a truly unique one in food & beverage! And they also get 7 weeks’ paid vacation per year.
This taste for time and good times seems to be shared by eveyone in the business. After a particularly profitable year, Alexandre Bourdas offered his employees “the choice between one more day off and a pay raise. They all chose to have more personal time!” They do however move up and thrive materially. His dishwasher for instance, was able to move from a council flat (subsidsed housing) to a house in Honfleur, and could even have another one built in his native Dakar, Senegal.
Which explains why this Chef is faced with an unusual managerial issue : « a lack of turnover and immense employee loyalty. Many have been with the restaurant since the opening, 10 years ago already!”
Chef Alexandre Bourdas and his wife Delphine, the head waiter, have undertaken major refurbishments in a building in Honfleur where they will work and live. They enjoy “designing the place as a reflection of [their] outlook on life.” To them, a restaurant is “not just a business, it is also a lived-in place, without the coldness and pomp of Michelin-starred establishments.”
Not only because this fits their personalities, but also because, according to the Chef, “cooking is a human endeavour. At night, I am a Chef in the kitchen but I am also a dad. I want my daughter to be able to come and kiss me goodnight if she wants to.”
In the new place he also dreams of a study, possibly like sushi master Watanabe’s: this chef, whom Alexandre admires for “his outlook on life and his humbleness”, has placed “a TV screen, a tatami mat and an lounge chair in his study!”
A stage director, not a performer
Alexandre Bourdas thinks about his own and his loved ones’ pleasure, but also the clients’. He want everyone “to feel good in [his] house, to spend a moment out of time and space there. Without the stuffy atmosphere or the rush of several waiters any time a napkin falls to the floor.”
The atmosphere is quickly set with “bread, wine and a salad on the table, for the clients to share at will and feel comfortable, to take time together, without being interrupted.” Kitchenwise, no show of hands, no performance or crazy antics, and hence none of the stress and strain which can remove all shared pleasure and candid enjoyment from a meal. No screaming, no running, an open kitchen with tight-knit teams who do their jobs calmly, together.” And the chef as a stage director who enjoys talking with his customers at the end of their meal. Not to inquire “whether the meat was well done or the greens seasoned to satisfaction, but to know if they’ve had a good time, together.”
He likes nothing more than seeing couples kissing as they leave his restaurant – and seeing his teams succeed individually – a sight more rewarding than the Michelin stars.
- 1990 : First meal in a Michelin-starred restaurant, Michel Bras’
- 1999 : Meets his future wife, Delphine
- 2006 : Opens SaQuaNa
- 2008 : Daughter Akali born
- 2016 : SaQuaNa undergoes renovation
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