So what does the crazy Frenchman, father, husband, entrepreneur, author, restauranteur (have we missed anything?) do in his day? We asked him and quickly realised that his day pretty much sums up the year. Take a look ...
It’s Wednesday and 5am. The alarm is gently waking me. I open my eyes and take a moment, just a few seconds, to consider how lucky I am - my beautiful wife beside me, two children asleep in the next room. This moment is new for me - since writing my autobiography. I am alive, tick. I am blessed, double tick.
Once this moment has passed I am off. I pull my lycra over my tired body (I attended the Gault & Millau Awards last night and celebrated a great review). It’s a familiar feeling - after all, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years now. It crosses my mind fleetingly that although deemed a ‘success story’ the hours are still relentless.
5.30am - I head off with my other fellow MAMILs, riding with the sun rising beside me and feeling every climb and fall of the hills towards La Perouse. I’ve been riding with these men for years - sometimes for endurance, sometimes for charity, mostly for enjoyment. We are a mixed bunch. We rarely talk, sometimes compete, often give stick to each other and always land at Bitton Alexandria for breakfast afterwards.
7.00am – We order One Pan Bacon and Eggs - can you believe this has been on our menu since 2000? It’s crazy to think how far we have come. I help our Cafe Manager Yan do the last of the table set up and then rush home to shower and be back in time to welcome the first of our many regulars through the door.
7.45am - “Good morning teenagers” - the Bitton breakfast club are sitting out the front of the cafe - Mark, Linda, Tony no shoes (he really doesn’t wear shoes), Amanda, Edgar Dianne, Elliot and Sam … oh and their ‘babies ‘ Doris and Eugene. For more than 17 years I have seen these faces every morning. They are quite literally the foundation of our flagship cafe. “You belong on the catwalk” - the steady stream of takeaways arrive - I compliment the women, joke with the children, heckle the council workers and ask endless questions of the business men. People have always fascinated me. It’s my favourite part of this business - the people.
8am - My wife Sohani arrives. Many don’t know that she is actually the reason Bitton exists - she was the one who pushed us to take the leap of faith from our ‘real’ jobs. I am so grateful to have her working in the business now, it took me 10 years to convince her. She is the engine. We are a great partnership, in life and in business. I affectionately tease her about her double parking, tell her how beautiful she is looking and ask her to check out the cute baby I have just snatched out of a local mother’s arms.
8.15am - My second wife arrives - it’s one of my most inappropriate jokes - I have one black one, one white one. Camilla has worked for us for almost 14 years. That’s crazy. She heads to the office where so much happens. The pop-ups, the menus, the events, Bitton Consulting, functions, the books, the product range … Bitton isn’t just a cafe. I ensure she gets her coffee quickly so I can safely start to over fill her to do list for the day.
9am - Soon to be announced as my third wife, Lena arrives. She’s Russian and our Financial Controller. Do you get the picture? She drives me crazy and I couldn’t do without her, all at the same time. It’s very confusing.
10.30am - My first meeting is here - it’s the CEO of Interrelate, a new charity that I hope to work with. I break the ice as I always do “I am surrounded by supermodels”! Writing my autobiography this year has opened so many fascinating doors for me and this is one. The synergy between my story and the people they help on a daily basis is moving. We discuss my story and how I can help. As with all forms of giving back, I am instantly committed.
12 midday - It’s time to jump in the car, crank up SuperTramp and drive (probably really dangerously) to Oatley. The only break in my loud 80’s music is to call the office and spill out several ideas that didn’t come to me while I was there. Camilla frantically takes notes on the other end and Sohani rolls her eyes with a knowing smile. He rode his bike this morning, the energy level will be even more hectic than usual.
12.30pm - I arrive (usually unannounced) in Oatley. I like to keep them on their toes - as they certainly have done for us. It would be safe to say that opening Oatley 18 months ago hasn’t been easy. The criticism and our misjudgement about being able to replicate what we have in Alexandria has been harsh in equal parts. We feel lucky however that as a business we have been busy. Functions continue to grow, people are starting to accept what we do and we are more committed than ever to ‘making it’ there. The Bitton way.
1pm - The local member for Oatley drops in for a media photo opportunity for Services NSW. My passion for politics is also a new discovery this year. The abolition of the 457 visa, the same sex marriage vote and even the inauguration of Trump have all contributed to me wanting to use my position to speak out - particularly for migrants and this industry that I love. Having had SBS officially ask for my opinion as a small business owner on several occasions throughout the year has only added fuel to my desire to speak out. So watch out politics - Minister Bitton might not be far away! I just need to make sure I’m not holding dual citizenship first …
1.30pm - I sit for a quick lunch to taste one of the dishes we have coming up on our new Summer menu. Our Head Chef in Oatley, Graham delivers a stunning Beef Carpaccio. Although staffing has been a very time consuming and at times difficult element of the growth of Bitton, to have key people in place like Graham and his wife Mandy is invaluable. Sohani and I now travel overseas as we did in the European Summer this year, knowing that the cafes will continue to run as we wish them to. Bring on more holidays I say!
2pm - There’s a phone call from the Alexandria office, Studio 10 are asking for another cooking segment in a week and they need to know what I want to cook. I have to say this has been one of the highlights of my year. I don’t think it’s a secret that I would love to be more involved in the media, particularly TV. I’ve got a lot to learn, including how to cope with 5 female journalists looking over my shoulder as I cook!
“Let’s cook my mother’s favourite”, I say “it’s flambe, they will love it”. It’s an honour to share the theatre and stories behind the dishes I cook across such a wide audience. I’ll turn Jessica Rowe into the ‘not so crap housewife’ in no time!
2.30pm - I head back to the Inner West to pick up my kids from school. It’s part of that endless quest for ‘balance’. There has been a lot of talk in the media this year about whether it actually exists - I think it does but I still don’t entirely know how to do it. My children have grown up so much this year - I realised it when I told them about the autobiography I was writing and why. Their acceptance was beyond their years. I am so deeply proud of them.
4pm - After dropping the family home I head back to the office. My screen saver catches my eye - its Gabby. Two years on after his passing, I still miss him every day. I whisper ‘love you Gabba Gabs’ and start clearing emails.
5pm - My waiter Thomas arrives at the office door with a glass of French champagne. My favourite. There’s always a reason to drink champagne and today it’s the launch of our product range in Myer nationally. This is something my team and I have been working on for months - we are instore, and just in time for Christmas. Perfect!
6pm - Some local families arrive for an early dinner. I mention that we ‘haven’t done the DNA” test yet on 7 year old Kiki as I flirt with her Mum and tease her Dad. I love our locals night - seeing families sit back and enjoy French food while watching their kids play in the playroom. This is what it’s all about for me - food and entertaining.
7pm - After greeting the first few diners of the night in Alexandria I give Oatley a call and see how their night is going. “we have had 20 walk-ins and its pumping” they say. This is great news. Nothing makes me happier than a full restaurant with happy customers.
8pm – It’s dinner time at my mother-in-law’s house. Mrs Singh is a truly incredible cook and one of the reasons we changed our product range to say they are “A French Indian Story”. She did introduce me to chilli after all! I enjoy an excellent scotch on ice with Mr Singh and we recap the day, the week, the year that was 2017. We often talk well into the night. We also plan, a lot, personally and professionally for 2018.
10pm - A final call into the two cafes to see how their night has gone and again, a reflection on how far we have come and how lucky we are to have this business still going after so long. Goodnight.
So there it is, a year in a day and a glimpse of what the highlights were. There is so much more to come in 2018 - new pop-ups, new degustations, more functions, new products for our range, continuing to grow our consulting business and looking forward even further into the possibility of another cafe. Watch this space.
Wishing you and your families a very happy and safe Christmas and holiday season. Thank you for your patronage and support over another year, it means the world to us.