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At this week’s Airport Food & Beverage Awards in Manchester, I chatted on stage with Caviar House & Prunier Chairman Peter Rebeiz in a candid, often humourous and always compelling interview.
It was a very special moment for me. Not only did it represent a return to the ‘day job’ after my prolonged absence, but it was in the company of a man I admire hugely.
Peter’s company, Caviar House & Prunier, was founded by his father George Petros Rebeiz – the legendary ‘King of Caviar’ (the ‘Prunier’ was added to Caviar House in May 2004 when the French producer of farmed caviar was acquired).
The story of Caviar House & Prunier is a deeply fascinating one for any devotee of gastronomy, entrepreneurialism or luxury. From small beginnings it has grown into the world’s largest importer and distributor of caviar (as well as being associated with other top quality seafoods, notably the Balik salmon which it also produces).
The company has also become synonymous with successful airport seafood bars, particularly since 2007 when it struck a global partnership with leading concessionaire SSP. The airport experience of countless travellers has been enriched significantly as a result.
On stage Peter told me: “This is not just a business, but a passion for us. My phone number is on every menu card we print; people can and do call me. I learn more in 10 customer complaints than in 100 market research studies.”
I’ve dined at a few Caviar House & Prunier outlets in my time and I must say I have never had grounds for complaint. But the principle is a nice one.
Just after the conference ended I received a lovely gift from Peter – his new book ‘Caviar, A History of Desire’. It’s a magnificent work in every sense, from the exquisite cover, photographs and production quality to the evocative writing that touches lyrical heights at times.
“It would be a mistake to look upon Caviar as just food,” Peter writes in the introduction. “We do not feast on Caviar to indulge our hunger; we consume it to be transported into another dimension, a world of the finer traditions and an experience of intense moments. Caviar is a passionate love affair with life, culture and prominence.”
The opening chapter, Om Khalsoum (a reference to the famous Arab singer), transports both author and reader back to Peter’s childhood. At the age of five, the young Rebeiz is escorted by his father through the streets of Paris on a Caviar-buying mission.
The wholesaler of the Caviar is told by Rebeiz Senior that not only he, but also his son, must taste it.
“My son has to taste it. If he likes it, I might buy it, and besides, I want him to learn.”
“But he is so young,” came the reply, “do you really think it is such a good idea?”
George Rebeiz duly took his son’s hand and asked the seller to place some Caviar on the back of it – an old tasting tradition.
Peter takes up the story. “I licked the Caviar off the back of my hand, looked at my father, and said very nervously: ‘I think I like it very much’.”
What a lovely story. And so a life-time love affair was born. And for that, the airport food & beverage community can be forever thankful.
[Caviar, A History of Desire, is published by Sagep Editori. For more information, see www.TheCaviarBlog.com]