“It’s almost as if I wasn’t in prison”, prisoners open a restaurant in Baumettes

Amir* neatly arranges the coats of the first guests who arrive in the closet, near the kitchen. The room, beautifully decorated, still smells of fresh paint. Behind the eager young waiter, the chefs are busy with the final preparations before the official inauguration of Les Beaux Mets restaurant.

“We have to set up all the equipment in two minutes, okay? And the work plan, you must leave it clean when you are done. Is it good for you? Sandrine Sollier, the head of this brand new institution, gives the final instructions to her brigade. Nothing, it seems, makes a difference Les Beaux Mets from another classic bistronomic restaurant. Except for one small detail. In a corner of the room, near the tables and cutlery, a certain Natalie, in uniform, watches over the wheat. “My role is to be in position on the square,” she explains. In particular, it is necessary to count the knives several times during the service, in order not to allow the prisoners to leave with them in the cell. This is why the knives are closed. »

More freedom

Because Nathalie is a brigade supervisor inside Baumettes, and the staff of this restaurant, all detained in the famous prison of Marseille. After five years of gestation, Les Beaux Mets opens this Tuesday and at the same time becomes the first inmate-run restaurant open to the public. Thirteen Baumettes prisoners volunteered to be part of the adventure, like Amir.

“I’m basically interested in cooking,” says the 22-year-old. After all, I am a server, but it allows me to discover something. Above all, it helps me think less about my problems. It allows me to have more freedom in relation to others, to see other faces, a different environment than my cell. It’s the limit as if I wasn’t in prison. I’m out from 8am to 4pm. Others are only entitled to two hours of walking a day. Recently convicted, Amir will be released from custody in 2024.

“We are closed, like a tent”

“I, wanted to do it first to work, there is a lot of his fellow server Driss*. There, time becomes profitable in a useful way. It’s rewarding. It doesn’t feel like we’re in a cell, where we do nothing. The young man points to an object next to him. “We are closed, like a tent. »

“I’m supposed to be out in March 2024,” explains Faridi, an apprentice chef. By integrating the restaurant, it may allow me to check out faster. I will not hide it from you, there is a strategic side. But not only. At 30, normally, we build something. I’m taking myself out of context here. And time passes much faster than in the cell. And learn a beautiful craft. But I will not do this work outside. I have other projects. I have always been in import-export. »

This initiative initiated by both the prison administration and the Festin association aims to promote calls in a sector of activity in tension and in this way to better prepare for the reintegration of these prisoners. “I earn a little money and it helps me eat,” explains Amir. And then, afterwards, I’ll be able to write it on my CV as experience. I had never done the server before. The first few days I messed everything up. But why not do this outside, if there is work. On Thursdays and Fridays we are helped to write CVs. »

Encourage calls

“Everyone makes mistakes,” says chef Sandrine Sollier. They made bigger mistakes than we did. But we are more than mistakes. We think they are very diligent and very attentive. I am pleasantly surprised by the work provided. “We’re here to show them off,” says Marc Balthazard, the establishment’s maitre d’. I think someone just needs to help them go in the right direction. We will also try to find them work abroad when we leave. »

And to start with a smile: “And then, as they arrive with the supervisors, they are always on time. And since alcohol is banned in prison, they are fresh and ready to work. They didn’t party the night before! It remains for these apprentice chefs and waiters to succeed in their baptism of fire. After a week of running around with officials and reporters, the restaurant will open to the public on Tuesday. “I’m a little scared,” Amir breathes. One hundred people have already booked, four days before their visit, online, as required by the regulations. Time in particular to check the lockers of the guests, who will have to leave money and mobile phones in a box outside the restaurant.

*All the names of the arrested have been changed.

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