Arnaud Debelmas, Maître D’
A day in the life
Arnaud Debelmas, originally from Nimes, came to London 12 years ago, and has been at two Michelin-starred Hélène Darroze at The Connaught for eight years. He became one of two maître d's in December 2014, and also works in private dining and at the Sommelier's Table, Hélène Darroze's unique chef's table. Here he describes his typical day at the restaurant.
How does your day start?
Every day is different. I start at 9am checking the bookings, and take a holistic view of the day ahead as I'm planning it. The team then sets up the room and I oversee the ironing of all the tablecloths and the mise en place – the table settings. It's about checking all the little details – where you put the salt and pepper, the freshness of the flowers, the freshness of our product display – everything is reviewed. This takes about two hours. Then I talk to the chef about any changes to the menu and familiarise myself with that – there are often last-minute changes because we work with fresh produce supplied daily. At 11.30am we have the first of two daily briefings. We go through news from the hotel, any VIP guests, and we review all the bookings.
What happens at lunchtime?
The first guests arrive for lunch at around 12 noon, and on average there are 50 or so each day. There are two sections in the restaurant – back and front – and I take charge of the guests in my section as soon as they are sitting down. One of the main things I do is explain the menu, which is quite complicated at first. Some people get it straightaway and others don't: I find you need to be a bit of a psychologist about this, and mega efficient, making it as simple as possible. But, at the same time, you must never forget that this is Hélène Darroze's two Michelin-starred restaurant – everything has to be perfectly executed, not least the explaining of the menu.
How do you fill the time between lunch and dinner?
Sometimes people are still lingering over lunch at 6 o'clock when it's time to be setting up for dinner! In general we wait until the last lunch guest leaves before re-setting the room – and it's quicker the second time. Between 4 and 6pm I work on orders, rotas, admin and any other paperwork. The second briefing is at 6pm. Sometimes we have a tasting with the chef; sometimes a supplier comes in to demonstrate a product. All the waiters and sommeliers need to be familiar with our suppliers and products. The first dinner guests arrive at 6.30pm and the last around 9pm, so I don't usually leave before 11pm.
What do you see as the significance of your role?
My duty is to ensure that guests enjoy the full experience of Hélène Darroze, and I'm also the guardian of standards, making sure that the menus are clearly explained to everyone in my section – whether it's the lunch formula or the five or seven-course inspiration menu for dinner. I really respect the hard work that goes on in the kitchen, and it's up to me to ensure that every step – between kitchen and dining room – is well-executed. It's a pleasure to work here, because it's such a wonderful product. I'd like to be a guest here!
What makes a really good Maître D', in your opinion?
In some ways, you are a performer on stage. But to be a good maître d', I think my performance has to be genuine: you're taking care of people from the heart, all kinds of different people. I generally make them laugh, but I also understand the boundaries. I studied theatre at school and my BA was in philosophy: it's important to understand the world you're living in.
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