Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Christine Thèze, Restaurant Owner
Christine Thèze is one half of La Boheme
restaurant in Waterford and a familiar face around the city.
Christine Thèze co-owns the restaurant with her charming husband Eric, a proud Breton man. She does a lot for the restaurant. She is the on the floor as manager, she does the accounts and deals with suppliers, she looks after the staff and the customers like they were all baby chicks and she was mother hen. Christine does all this and more with a smile on her a face and a song in her heart. She loves what she does and that passion oozes out of everything she does.
I went down to Waterford to meet with Christine Thèze a couple of months ago. We had been twitter pals and had chatted on the phone and it was time to put a face to the name. We have a lot in common. We’re both expats and speak a weird franglais which is incredibly relaxing. It means we switch to whatever language is easiest at the time and it’s such a pleasure to know that she will get “exactly” what I’m trying to say. We are both mad about great food and love all the local and seasonal food. This shines through the restaurant’s “Market Menu”. Whatever is fresh and best on the day of the market is what you will be offered. I love that and wish more restaurants did that.
Anyway, back to Christine Thèze because she’s magic and makes the best tomates farcies. You can, if you’re in or around Waterford and you are in the food industry, please know she sings all your praises. She has a great sense of community and understands that people that love food should work together instead of constantly competing against each other. When I came to visit, instead of constantly talking about her own business she brought me around the town to visit other businesses. We went to Ardkeen, and Grangetown tomatoes and Grow HQ and honestly it was a fantastic day.
I’m a big fan of the ethics and passion behind La Boheme so I can’t recommend it highly enough. I will be travelling down next Sunday for their afternoon tea as part of the Waterford Harvest festival and I can’t wait. If you’re around do book yourself in for it as it’s going to be a great one!
I’m talking to women of the Irish Food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1962 to a German mother and an English father. I grew in a very multicultural environment, eating Brazilian food, as well as the European food my parents cooked and those of other types of food prepared by expat friends. Everything was delicious, I loved food from a very early age.
We moved to the U.S. when I was 8 and then when I was 12, to Paris. This was an eye opener for me. I loved everything French, to the point where I married a French Man several years later. The foray to France meant that we travelled and ate our way through most of Europe which just anchored my love for food and travel and was a sign of things to come.
We ended up moving back to New York, but Dad’s position meant he had to travel weeks, sometime months at a time, and his company allowed him bring his family on these business trips. Every summer we set off for the Phillippines, Malaysia, Singapore, India and even lived in Hong Kong for 3 months. A delicious smorgasbord of food cultures. I tried everything and embraced the multitude of flavours. Naturally, it was my destiny to work in the food industry in some capacity.
I trained in hospitality and restaurant management in Switzerland and worked then for a few years in the Alps. Degree under my belt, I finally returned to the U.S., where I worked for several hotels and restaurants. But I was unhappy living back in the States, I yearned for Europe so when I met my then to be husband chef, Eric from Brittany, we decided to move back and settle in France.
Fast forward 5 years and we decided to live in a neutral country. France was too close to his heart and we wanted to find our own common ground.
So having never visited Ireland, we took a position to work for Renata Coleman in Humewood Castle, Wicklow in 1996. We parted ways and then spent several years working in various towns and cities in Ireland before opening our own restaurant La Boheme in 2006 which was the natural progression in our lives.
How does your career fulfill you?
I am passionate about looking after and serving people. It’s what I do best, and on our days off, we do the same at home. I think myself and Eric feel happiest when we are making lists of food to buy and cook. I am most definitely doing what I love and feel lucky to exercise a profession where I am an influence in so many young people’s lives starting out their career in hospitality. We have had 100’s of very successful candidates pass through our doors and it makes us proud each and every time to hear they have gone from strength to strength after spending a few years under our guidance. Some were waiters, who we coached in management and went on to be directors in 2* Michelin restaurants, others have opened their own restaurants and some of our trainee chefs are now all over the world. We are like proud parents.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Christine Thèze?
I love a challenge and if you ask Eric, I have a new idea for something almost every day, it drives him crazy, but I guess it keeps me sane thinking I can do something else if I want to. I do all the accounts, marketing, social media, menu printing etc, and also work hands on in the restaurant, so honestly, there is really no time to think of starting a new career as I am still so focused on my present one. Being in the restaurant business means there isn’t a whole lot of time for anything else especially if you are intent on being successful in the current climate which can still be very precarious. But I love it and can’t imagine doing anything else or with anyone else. Working together with my life partner has been a learning curve and at times we want to kill each other as we are both so strong willed, but we know instinctively we have each other’s backs, and this is of huge comfort.
In your opinion, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?
The challenge for women is ongoing, it’s how to find a work life balance where you can excel at both. I’ve always felt that when things were ticking along nicely in the restaurant, organised, clean, perfect menus, then the house and the children were neglected and vice versa. You never feel you are completely at the top or your game or have the quality of life you crave. Something always has to give and if you are a perfectionist like I am it’s frustrating. But you do the best you can, and sometimes this just has to be enough.
Tell us one woman in the Irish Food Industry who consistently inspires you and why?
Joan Foley – she works alongside Tom Cleary, our organic vegetable, salad and herb supplier, sowing, weeding, picking in all sorts of weather. They deliver a few times a week and Joan always has a twinkle in her sparkly blue eyes. She’s a few weeks shy of her 74th Birthday and has the spirit, tenacity and strength of someone 1/3 her age. She’s been working the land for 25 years and it would not occur to her to retire or do anything else. She’s a marvel to me every time I see her and someone I have huge admiration for. Proof, that if you love what you do, it keeps you young.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry of Ireland.
I wholeheartedly believe that as I am of the older generation, we should take younger women starting out under our wing and coach them. We have a responsibility to show them the ropes and I have seen first- hand the self -esteem and confidence grow when you spend the time to nurture someone on a one to one basis. It’s very gratifying knowing you’re helping sow the seeds of success and passion in someone else’s life.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
In 2014, I won Business Woman of the Year in Waterford. I was stunned. I guess I had never thought of myself as a business woman funnily enough, I was just doing my job. But then to be recognised publicly by my peers was absolutely wonderful. And yes a very proud moment indeed.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Have more confidence in your abilities and do not be afraid to sing them from the rooftops!!
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Common sense and the ability to think on your feet along with good organisational skills. No day or service is ever the same, and it will throw some very strange and unusual complexities that need solving sometimes in a split second, so you have to learn to think fast and react calmly but with integrity and reason. You need umpteen amounts of stamina and patience, having trained staff now for 30 years, takes it’s toll, but it is what I love and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
What’s your favourite dessert?
Thank god, actually that I don’t have a sweet tooth as it would be really hard not to succumb to the beautiful desserts created by our pastry chef.
I prefer a nice cheese-board! But if there is one dessert that I would take with me to a desert island, it would have to be Tarte Tatin!