Chef Sandrine Sollier in the kitchen of the restaurant “Les beaux mets”, in the Baumettes prison in Marseille on November 2, 2022 (AFP / Christophe SIMON)
Sea bream tartare, colorful cocktails and velvet sofas could make you think of any restaurant. However, at the “Beaux mets”, in Marseille, the customer tastes the dishes prepared by the inmates, under the watchful eye of a prison guard, within the walls of the mythical Baumettes.
Separated from the outside world by two impassable doors, one floor above the cells, in the only surviving building of the historic Baumettes, the restaurant reveals an intimate décor, ocher and wood tones.
The room with about forty seats, which AFP was able to preview, will open its doors to the public on November 15, but the prisoners are already serving “trial” meals.
One of them, that day in charge of the aperitif, shows a big smile: “When I’m at the restaurant I forget the punishment, I’m out with my head, and in the evening I go to bed tired but happy, with the desire to be already tomorrow”.
Like twelve other inmates of the release support structure (SAS), reserved for people who have been definitively sentenced and at the end of their sentence, he joined the Beaux mets as part of a professional integration project carried out by the prison administration and the “Festin” association.
“The release is anxiously awaited but more difficult than we imagine”, explains Christine Charbonnier, general secretary of the interregional directorate of penitentiary services: “The idea of the SAS is that the prisoner gets ready for life outside”.
It was during a visit to the Bollate prison in Milan and its restaurant run by inmates that the prison administration imagined the Beaux mets, also comparable to “The Clink” restaurant in London’s Brixton prison.
– “The pride of doing something excellent” –
“The kitchen requires organization, rigor, important things to mobilize people away from work”, assures Armand Hurault, director of the Festin association.
The restaurant “Les beaux mets”, in the Baumettes prison in Marseille on November 2, 2022 (AFP / Christophe SIMON)
Despite their inexperience – most of them had never cooked -, the inmates prepare “bistronomic” dishes, an offer guaranteed by those who follow them: a butler and a chef who has worked in particular for the triple star “Petit Nice “. “in Marseille, Sandrine Sollier.
A la carte (35 euros starter / main course / dessert), vegetable monochrome, lamb crumble, jaw-dropping apple: “The pride of doing something excellent is an extremely important driver,” according to Armand Hurault.
In the brand new kitchen, not one word higher than the other, everyone is up to their task: cooking sauces, diving in, dressing. “Discipline is acquired without force, they are already harassed enough on a daily basis,” explains Sandrine Sollier, according to whom the inmates are “double the will” of much more experienced employees.
The only specific constraint of detention, he recognizes: the two knife cabinets, locked. “Every morning and every evening I tell them”.
– “Some inmates can get away with it” –
A prisoner does the service in the restaurant “Les beaux mets”, in the Baumettes prison in Marseille on November 2, 2022 (AFP / Christophe SIMON)
On the immaculate stainless steel countertop, 31-year-old Jeffrey Sandiford meticulously slices a cooked sweet potato. He is one of the few to return to his original profession, learned in the army: “I didn’t want to lose the habit of working”.
He appreciates the fact that Sandrine Sollier “sees him not as an inmate but as a member of the team”: this restaurant, “will prove that some inmates can get by.”
The project also aims to change the aspect of detention, “often quite caricatured, a 4-star prison for some and shame of the Republic for others”, deplores Charbonnier, who wishes to reconcile “inside and out”.
Les Beaux mets will be open Monday to Friday, for lunch only. Compulsory registration 72 hours in advance on the restaurant’s website, time for the prison administration to verify the identity and criminal record of each customer.
Upon arrival, everyone will have to go through a security gate and leave their mobile phone, keys and cash in a locker for the time of a non-alcoholic meal, consumed under the discreet eye of a prison guard. .
“Binding conditions, yes, but for a unique experience”, Armand Hurault acknowledges.
The garden of the restaurant “Les beaux mets”, in the Baumettes prison in Marseille on November 2, 2022 (AFP / Christophe SIMON)
From a personal point of view, the results are already very positive: Kamel *, 21, moves easily from table to table. “I have done some work in my life, but I have never really appreciated it, there is, as it were, a pleasure”, describes the young man shyly.
Very at ease in his role as a waiter, he assures him anyway: “it is not this uniform that makes me forget that I am going back to my cell at 5 pm”. But the Beaux mets give him hope for the future: “Go out again to bullshit, no, think about being a waiter, yes …”
jp / ol / cbn
* alleged name