Lilo is the new, often smiling face of the catering services offered by Thalias group at the Institut Français du Cambodge. It promises to be an exciting challenge for this passionate cook.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Ali Seddaoui, but I go by Lilo. I'm 52 years old and come from Saint-Denis in Paris. I come from a family of six children.
What's your background?
I trained as an accountant and, after completing that, I worked for the Centre d'échange d'Internationaux in the 6th arrondissement for a dozen years.
What brought you to Cambodia?
I discovered Cambodia on vacation in 2003. I really enjoyed it, and in 2005 I made arrangements with the company where I worked to have a year's sabbatical. I wanted to set up an ice cream shop. In the end, it didn't happen for technical reasons. So I decided to travel around the country by motorcycle.
Then I returned to France, but my job was no longer available. I then travelled for six months in Africa with friends, some of whom I had met in Cambodia. I tried again in 2006 to set up a professional soccer team with Rithy Tep, who was well known in the tennis world, but who was also involved in football at the time. I was in charge of setting up this project to integrate a new team into the league, and I also played in this team. However, the project only lasted a year and a half, due to a lack of funding.
Did you then return to France?
Yes, I got a few jobs and even became a letter carrier - cycling around Paris - a rather unusual, amusing and story-filled experience. Then, I came back to Cambodia in 2013 and was hired by the Italian restaurant La Picola Da Luigi in the Russian Market district of Phnom Penh. I already had a little experience in the restaurant business, as on my previous return to Paris, I managed a brasserie.
Were these your first steps in the restaurant business?
Yes, and I really enjoyed my experience in that brasserie. I loved meeting and chatting with all those different people early in the morning. Each of them had a different story, and it was really interesting to listen to these slice-of-life stories. That was for the human side, but professionally, it was a success. I managed to revitalize the brasserie by organizing quite a few events, especially concerts.
Are you a gourmand or a gourmet?
I've always liked to eat well, and I believe that cooking - especially good cooking - is an important part of our daily lives.
My mother, who was originally from the Maghreb, always prepared delicious dishes for us; she loved to cook and we absolutely worshipped her cooking. She was a master not only of traditional Algerian cuisine, but also of French. In our family, we never ate anything frozen.
Let's go back to your 1st experience in the restaurant business in Cambodia
Luigi opened La Picola in 2012. I knew him through sport; we used to cycle together. He asked me to oversee operations at the Pizzeria. The ambition was to create a centralised purchasing office and a franchise. However, even though the restaurant was doing very well, our paths diverged for family and other reasons. My French-Cambodian wife was expecting our first son and we returned to France. I also had to take care of my mother, who had some health problems.
Then another return to Cambodia...
Yes, and again for family reasons, I stayed at home for a while. I knew Arnaud Darc, who had already offered me a first job, which I turned down just for practical reasons. Then, two months ago, we spoke again and I was hired to manage the Institut Français' Khéma Go and the restaurant Le Bistrot, which is located within its walls.
What were your first impressions?
The Institut is a great place with lots of life, lots of events and - as far as this new Groupe Thalias project is concerned - Arnaud has an approach that I really like.
The initial results are very encouraging, and I'm getting excellent feedback. It should be pointed out that there are two entities, the Khéma Go - fast food, pastries and drinks - which is located where the bar is, and the Le Bistrot restaurant located in the same area a few meters away. Le Bistrot is a restaurant, offering a number of Khéma classics as well as original menus.
" Of course, there's a settling-in period, as with any opening, both internally and with customers, but I'm very optimistic about what's to come. There's a real synergy with the spirit of the Institute."
We really want to work hand in hand, responding reactively to their events, offering quality cuisine for both the Bistrot and the Khéma Go. We also have a Lunch Box project for students, so they don't eat just anything. A balanced and varied menu to take away or eat in, at a "student" price.
What are your hobbies outside work?
For this opening period, I don't really have any. I prefer to focus on my business, getting the teams up to speed, planning our activity in phase with the Institute and creating real harmony between our teams, our customers and all these events. But I don't mind having little free time at the moment, because it's an exciting challenge.