L’Ecurie : “Continuing the history of an emblematic location”

L’Écurie has had a new owner since November 2022. At 35 years old, Damien Gillet decided to take over the management of one of the most prestigious restaurants in the region. With specialised hotel training in the bar and sommelier industry in France, Damien has worked in several well-known French palaces. Then, he moved to Verbier to join the team at the Chalet d’Adrien. This 13-year professional experience allowed him to build an excellent local network and learn about local products. After one year, the restaurant’s success is ­evident. Interview.

Damien Gillet in his restaurant.

How did the takeover of L’Écurie go ?

I really enjoyed my previous professional activity, but I wanted a new professional challenge. In the winter of 2021, I heard that the restaurant might be available for takeover. The next day, I went to talk to Claude-Alain Besse. Then everything fell into place, and I invested all my savings to take over L’Écurie. During my vacation in May and June 2022, I had to go through the licensing process. Afterwards, it was my last summer at the Chalet, and on November 3, 2022, we officially opened our doors. Aware that we would have a high volume of customers, the beginning was very stressful, but I was able to count on a united and highly professional team to move forward. On December 2, 2023, we celebrated our first anniversary.

I am extremely grateful to Claude-Alain and Carole Besse. They provided me with a lot of advice and assistance, especially with administrative matters. Claude-Alain opened the door and extended his hand to me. I have great admiration for him, considering him the “King” of the restaurant industry in Verbier. I also want to express my gratitude to Lisette and Jean-Marc, the owners, who trusted me. Lastly, I have a great appreciation for my partner Alice, who supports me and takes care of all the restaurant’s reservations, group bookings, and emails because I’m not the best with computers.

Is the restaurant industry a passion for you ?

Coming from the Cognac region in France, I am fortunate to have cousins who own 30 hectares dedicated to producing grape brandy. I immersed myself in this environment, participating in pruning and distillation. This experience sparked my interest in the world of wine. However, my parents were not involved in this sector – one worked in the leather industry and the other in administration.

A smiling service is crucial.

How did you create your wine list ?

One of my goals in taking over a restaurant was to provide wine recommendations, which is why I pay attention to the details of the wine selection. We offer a wide range of Valais wines that I particularly appreciate. Before taking over the restaurant, I spent months visiting Valais producers. To sell and advise on a product, you must know it well. We also offer 20 premium wines by the glass, allowing customers to experience without necessarily buying the whole bottle. Our menu features a beautiful selection that we change every month.

Is the food menu also creative ?

Indeed, I wanted to bring about change. Like nostalgic recipes from our grandmothers, our menu offers familiar, generous, and flavorful dishes. For example, the dish “My mother’s macaroni” is a great success, as are veal blanquettes and the Malakoff dish. Everything here is homemade. In the summer, we offer lighter dishes such as carpaccios or tartares. We change the menu every 3-4 months.

We offer French cuisine with local products. For example, the cheese comes from Fromagerie de Verbier or La Chaumière, Clovis bread from Boulangerie Michellod, eggs from Ferme du Soleil, beef from Boucherie de Verbier, and infusions from “Les Simples” in Sarreyer. We aim to promote local sourcing.

Tell us about the hidden cellar of the restaurant, the “carnotzet.”

When I arrived at the restaurant, I discovered a treasure in the storage room : a beautiful unused cellar with great potential. We spent nights renovating the place to create a cozy cellar. This cellar can now be privatised for evenings with friends, corporate events, or simply tasting experiences. It can accommodate between 10 and 14 people.

The hidden cellar.

What does L’Écurie experience consist of ?

L’Écurie has a rich history and is an emblematic place. I’m trying to perpetuate that. What I enjoy the most is the diversity of the clientele, including entrepreneurs, workers, locals, and international visitors. We open at 7:30 in the morning, and that atmosphere carries throughout the day with coffee.

The goal is for the customers to leave with a smile and come back. The feedback has been very satisfying. After one year, the influx of customers is evident.

We also organised concerts on the terrace during the Verbier Festival in the summer of 2023. We try to make our mark on L’Écurie without completely changing it.

The staff is always helpful. Can you tell us a few words about your team ?

When I embarked on taking over the restaurant, many people followed me. Some were already working here, others joined us. The chef, Emilien, was already at L’Écurie, and since we shared the same vision for cuisine, it was obvious that he should stay with us.

Young and dynamic, the entire team is between 35 and 40 years old. We have 12 full-time staff members, and during the winter season, two more join us. For me, a smiling service is crucial. That’s why during interviews, I always want to meet candidates face-to-face or through video conferencing.

The working conditions are also important for employee loyalty, such as good compensation, suitable accommodation, payment for overtime hours, and vacation time.

Finally, there is an excellent atmosphere among us. We often enjoy an aperitif together and organise end-of-season meals. During tastings, I try to keep them interested by taking them with me.

The warm athmosphere of L’Ecurie

What’s the story behind the charming drawings on your menus and boards ?

It’s a collaboration with Christophe Bertschy, a Lausanne-based comic book artist. Since he spent his childhood in Verbier, he knows L’Écurie very well. We explained to him the direction we wanted to give to the restaurant. Based on that, he created illustrations combining humor, horses, and grandmother’s recipes.

How do you see the future of Verbier ?

Verbier should remain open all year round. To achieve this, we should support and create events between seasons, such as Polaris, which fills the first weekends of winter. These events attract people to the resort and support local businesses and hotels.”

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