Stefano Brancato officially retired from the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo on 9 January 2022, after leading the team there for almost 30 years. As one chapter closes, another opens with the arrival of Éric Gorjux, his successor at the helm of the famous Place du Casino brasserie. Here, we take a look back at the exceptional career of one of Monaco’s iconic figures: a career filled with passion, memories and emotion.
How would you sum up your 42 years working in Monaco?
Stefano Brancato: I first came to Monaco at the end of 1979, after two years in London. Then I went to Geneva, where I spent almost a year working at Le Richemond. In 1980, I came back to the Société des Bains de Mer as a chef de rang at the former Hôtel Mirabeau’s Michelin-starred La Coupole. I became assistant manager at the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo in 1994, and took the reins a year later.
What challenges have you faced?
S.B: The biggest have been ensuring continuity with my predecessor to preserve the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo’s historic identity, and managing the kitchen. And what exciting challenges they were! When I started, there were already 144 members of staff here. Now there are 200 of us, and 230 in high season. In the beginning, the Salon Bellevue on the first floor was no more than a small terrace, but we made it bigger so we could offer banqueting facilities up there. We’ve also extended the bar range, as well as offering themed menus all year round. It’s been hard work – but great fun, too.
Was the whole team involved?
S.B: My main goal was to get teams behind the new project. That doesn’t happen overnight, of course, but we learned how to adapt and innovate year after year, both in the kitchen and out on the floor. My priority has always been to improve customer satisfaction. That often comes down to the tiniest details, but those are the ones that count...
S.B: Having a smile on your face, being professional, readily offering ideas and advice, and of course, providing the required standard of service and showing extensive knowledge of everything from our cocktails to the menu, food and wine pairings, or anything else. In an establishment such as ours, saying “I don’t know” or “just a moment, I’ll find out” simply does not do. When it comes to service, it is important for us to consistently deliver.
Are there any events that have been particularly memorable for you?
S.B: We have held so many! But I do remember our “Brazilian days”, with the samba schools that flooded all of Monaco. There were dancers and musicians everywhere you looked: on the beaches, at the Palace... We had Brazilian specials on all week too. And how could I not mention Oktoberfest week! We’ve been running that since 2015. I love the chic, convivial atmosphere of it. It’s not quite Munich though! (laughs) We don’t have a crowd of 5,000 in a tent – more like 400-500 people every evening. We instilled a certain charm to these evenings out on Place du Casino – our guests loved getting together out there. It was a strange mix of Monaco and Munich, but a very pleasant breath of fresh air.
What do you think makes the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo what it is?
S.B: It is packed with history: it has stood there for over 150 years. It has been renovated several times – most recently in 1988 – but it has been important for us to respect and showcase this heritage. That’s not to say we couldn’t move forward, but we had to be careful. We have to make sure it stays in keeping with its time. The Café de Paris Monte-Carlo is still a traditional restaurant, and mindful of maintaining a certain standing. I too have gradually internalised this mindset. It goes beyond the menu: it’s also about having great respect for the staff. If staff feel at ease and confident in their jobs, and love what they do, our customers will feel at ease too. It is so important! What really matters is consistent service. Customers might drop in for just a salad, a glass of wine or a dessert – nothing more. It is classically Monegasque: a place where born and bred Monegasques love to meet all year round.
What specialities do they come for?
S.B: Our simple grilled calf’s liver, with shallots, shards of crispy bacon, and our excellent homemade mashed potatoes. The rockfish soup with rouille and croutons too – our take on a bouillabaisse – not to mention our French onion soup. We enjoy a wealth of produce from the Mediterranean, like sea bream and sea bass. And in the autumn, it is our shellfish that get the chance to shine: Fines de Claire, Perles de Monte-Carlo and Gillardeau oysters, sea urchins, lobsters, langoustines, prawns, whelks, clams...the list goes on!
And the famous Crêpe Suzette…
S.B: A must-try treat at the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo. It is a signature dessert that dates right back to the late 19th century. We owe it to the Prince of Wales and future King of England Edward VII, who had come here for dinner with a charming young woman. For dessert, the chef had decided to make crêpes with liqueur, orange juice, sugar and butter at the prince’s table. But the contents of his pan accidentally caught fire. The prince, thrilled by the spectacle, chose gallantly to christen the recipe after the young lady he was with: Suzette. We have been offering Crêpes Suzette to diners ever since.
What do you think lies ahead for the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo?
S.B: It will be about finding that delicate balance between tradition and innovation. It is that balance that makes the place what it is. The Café de Paris Monte-Carlo is its own label. Its history cannot be forgotten – but, at the same time, we must continue to innovate little by little, and adapt to the times and our customers’ expectations. Without our customers, we are nothing special. And, speaking as director, without our staff we are nothing special either. While we're on the subject, I’d like to wish all the very best to my successor, Éric Gorjux. I hope he enjoys himself just as much as I have at the head of this wonderful establishment for all these years. I hope he brings his own personality to the role. He is a consummate professional, and I have every faith in him.
What is one memory you will take away with you?
S.B: I have had some truly wonderful times at the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo, and over the course of my career I have received many tokens of appreciation from my peers, as well as many expressions of support. I leave having had the honour of meeting H.S.H Prince Albert II of Monaco who took the time to come and see me on my last day. It has been very emotional. Leaving our most loyal customers feels a little like leaving family. I have spent more time at the Café de Paris than I have at home! But it is time for me to move on. And the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo, too. But when it is ready to start its “new life”, I will of course be coming along to see what a good job they have done of it!
What is your earliest memory of the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo?
Éric Gorjux: I arrived in Monaco in 1992, from my tiny village in Corsica. I had come to join my father, who was working here at the time, and the first place we went was for a coffee on the terrace of the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo. I was 22, and I was amazed at what I was seeing. I wondered what a person might have to do to get to work there, and 30 years later here I am in charge...you must always believe in your dreams!
How did you feel when you were offered the challenge of taking over the Café?
É.G: Very happy, very contemplative, and very apprehensive. You’re put straight into the spotlight, but I’ve been lucky to have the support of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer. I owe them so much: they trust me and my experience, and I trust them. Once I stopped feeling so apprehensive, I mostly felt eager to take on the challenge. To create somewhere that feels more casual, whilst still maintaining the exacting standards necessary for managing a place such as this.
Have you got anything to say about the year’s transition period that the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo is about to undergo?
É.G: The brasserie will close on 28 February. The Limonadier will stay open, but we will be moving dining facilities to the Salle Empire in early March. It is an iconic room: one that’s full of history. We will be drawing on all our skill and expertise to ensure the satisfaction of our hotel guests, and also to appeal to curious visitors who no longer or have never come to the Café de Paris. We will be working together towards an intended reopening date of June 2023.