Separated from the outside world by two impassable doors, one floor above the cells, in the only surviving building of the historic Baumettes, the restaurant reveals an intimate decoration, ocher and wood tones.

The small room with about forty seats, which AFP was able to visit in preview, will open its doors to the public on November 15, but the prisoners are already serving “test” meals there.

One of them, a cocktail attendant that day, shows a big smile: “When I’m at the restaurant, I forget the detention, I’m outside in my head, and in the evening I go to bed tired but happy, with the desire to be already tomorrow”.

Like twelve other detainees from the support structure towards release (SAS), reserved for people who have been definitively sentenced and at the end of their sentence, he joined the Beaux mets as part of a professional integration project carried out by the administration. penitentiary and the “Festin” association.

“The release is eagerly awaited but more difficult than we imagine”, explains Christine Charbonnier, general secretary of the interregional directorate of penitentiary services: “The idea of ​​the SAS is that the prisoner prepares for life outside “.

It was while visiting the Bollate prison, in Milan, and its restaurant run by prisoners, that the prison administration imagined the Beaux mets, also comparable to the restaurant “The Clink” in the London prison of Brixton.

– “The pride of doing something excellent” –

“Cooking requires organization, rigor, important things to remobilize people far from employment”, assures Armand Hurault, director of the Festin association.

Despite their inexperience – most of them had never cooked -, the prisoners prepare “bistronomic” dishes, an offer guaranteed by those who supervise them: a butler and a chef who has notably worked for the triple star “Petit Nice”. ” in Marseilles, Sandrine Sollier.

A la carte (35 euros for starter/main course/dessert), vegetable monochrome, lamb crumble, stunning apple: “The pride of doing something excellent is an extremely important driving force”, according to Armand Hurault.

In the brand new kitchen, not one word higher than the other, everyone is at their task: cooking sauces, diving, dressing. “Discipline can be acquired without force, they are bullied enough like that on a daily basis”, explains Sandrine Sollier, according to whom the prisoners are “twice as willing” as much more experienced clerks.

The only constraint specific to detention, she acknowledges: the two knife cabinets, locked. “Every morning and every evening, I recount them”.

– “Some detainees can get away with it” –

On the immaculate stainless steel worktop, Jeffrey Sandiford, 31, painstakingly slices a cooked sweet potato. He is one of the few to return to his original profession, learned in the army: “I didn’t want to lose the habit of work”.

He appreciates that Sandrine Sollier “does not see (him) as an inmate but as a member of the team”: this restaurant, “it will prove that some inmates can get by”.

The project also aims to change the look on detention, “often quite caricatural, 4-star prison for some and shame of the Republic for others”, deplores Ms. Charbonnier, who wishes to reconcile “inside and outside”.

Les Beaux mets will be open Monday to Friday, lunchtime only. Mandatory registration 72 hours before on the restaurant’s website, the time for the prison administration to check the identity and criminal record of each customer.

On arrival, everyone will have to go through a security gate and leave their mobile phone, keys, cash in a locker for the time of a non-alcoholic meal, enjoyed under the discreet eye of a prison guard. .

“Restrictive conditions, yes, but for a unique experience”, recognizes Armand Hurault.

On the personal side, the results are already very positive: Kamel*, 21, moves from one table to another with ease. “I’ve done jobs in my life, but I’ve never really enjoyed it, there’s, how to say, a pleasure”, describes the young man shyly.

Very comfortable in his role as a waiter, he nevertheless assures him: “it’s not this uniform that makes me forget that at 5:00 p.m. I’m going to go back to the cell”. But the Beaux mets give him hope for the future: “Going out to do bullshit again, no, to consider being a waiter, yes…”

* assumed first name