It all started when Pierre Tami was talking to Alain Dupuis one day, who told Tami he would like to have an Italian restaurant. Dupuis had bought part of Hagar, the social enterprise and catering company Tami had founded years earlier.
Tami, who has served as Switzerland’s consul general for Cambodia since 2001, was always an amateur chef, cooking at home for his family.
Dupuis and Tami agreed there was room in the market for an Italian restaurant in Phnom Penh and if Tami found a good Italian chef, Dupuis would go for it.
As luck would have it, Tami met Fabrizio Sartor, already an accomplished Italian chef who was running Il Forno in Siem Reap and wanted to move back to Phnom Penh.
The three met at Tami’s house for dinner.
“Fabrizio cooked risotto at my house and Alain was very happy, so we started to talk and draft a concept of a restaurant. We shared also about the idea to do a small deli shop. The deli shop adds a lot of character. It is not just a commercial thing, but when you add the component of taste and smells, you have character.”
Tami didn’t want a picture of a ham on the wall. He wanted a real Italian ham people to see and smell on the slicer in the deli shop.
“We clicked,” Tami said. “Ninety-nine per cent of every aspect of the restaurant, everybody agreed on and we did not have to fight.”
The restaurant is complete as such that we don’t limit ourselves to pasta and pizza, but it is complete in Italian cuisine spectrum, amazing sea bass in salt crust, so we have the full spectrum of Italian cuisine.
“We are a complete Italian restaurant with fresh high-quality imported cheese and ham. I brought two Italians here and they said that not even where they came from could they find such high quality products.”
With more than 100 labels of wine, from almost every region of Italy, Tami said he and his partners insist on high quality and a family atmosphere.
“This is a place for family. This is casual and you can have friends; you can have flip flops. Terrazza has laughter and children and macaroni and even people talking passionately about football,” Tami said.
“What you envision here is people coming to enjoy good food at a good price.”
While Sartor is Italian with an Austro-Hungary ancestry and Dupuis is Belgian, Tami comes from Ticino, the Italian canton of Switzerland, where the Swiss speak Italian.
“We are one hour north of Milano, so our risotto is the same as in Milano. We would basically fit in with Italians. We are Swiss politically, but ethnically with are Italian. Being brought up in Switzerland, we would fit more like with Italian with greater sense of organization because of the Swiss influence. For the Italians I am Swiss but for the Swiss I am Italian,” Tami laughed.
Of Terrazza’s two VIP rooms, the Isabella and the Naomi, the Naomi room is named for Tami’s daughter, who passed away from heart trouble while in New York only recently. Tami and his family held a touching ceremony at Hotel Intercontinental to celebrate the life of their daughter.
“The restaurant honors Naomi’s memory and passion for food. We also have a fund in her name that will support young people to learn how to cook,” he said.
In 2004, Tami was named Social Entrepreneur of Year by the World Economic Forum. This week, Tami is in Myanmar’s capital city of Naypyidaw, speaking to the World Economic Forum on skills training for the hospitality and culinary industries.
“Myanmar is experiencing tremendous growth in tourism, and Myanmar does not have skills training, so this is a big issue that I am addressing,” he said. Another of Tami’s local ventures is the creation of a culinary academy for Cambodia. He also serves as the Secretary General of the Cambodian Chef’s Federation.
“I want to see young chefs develop here in Cambodia,” Tami said. “My overall big vision is that we need to employ young Cambodians and give them jobs. This one is to provide jobs. More projects like this will follow, but I get involved, and there is a natural passion for culinary arts. I want to see people learning the skills and getting the jobs as well as developing young Cambodian chefs,” he said.
Tami first arrived in Cambodia in 1990 from Singapore to start Hagar.
“We are founders of Hagar which has been replicated to Afghanistan, Laos and Vietnam,” he said.
Tami is passionate about seeing Cambodia and the region grow through a sense of justice and not merely the justice of the legal framework.
“If a poor girl being trafficked or a poor kid is being sold or abused, to be able to bring comfort into his life, and avenues for education and a life and a dignity; to be able to give the healing that’s needed for women to bring them back to society and the ability to contribute with their own hands. That for me is justice,” he said.
When Tami first arrived in 1990 there were no businesses.
“Business is the most sustainable way to keep people out of poverty,” Tami said. “Aid is only a short-term measure. Long-term we need people employed in the economy and the next generation develops and grows and so we stimulate the economy.
Tami said there are plenty of jobs in the cooking industry and what’s needed is to train for those skills.
“So we train and that’s justice,” he said. “We see people regaining their dignity, the sense of value and hope. To me that’s the expression of the Christian faith. That’s the expression of the love of God. I went through a hard time, but I had hope. I talked to someone about pain and tears. It happens here in Cambodia where the entire country understands what I’m going through.”
Tami loves Cambodians because they can relate so well to his recent loss.
“There is a saying, if heaven would cry, Cambodia would not know drought. I am in a country that people know what it means to lose a loved one. My family is now going through it. I cry every night and sometimes in the morning, and I have a sense of hope, and that’s an expression of the faith, its internal, motivates me to overcome corruption, the challenges, the difficulties in life, to start a business and to overcome the loss of your own child. We are proud to dream today to have a better Cambodia tomorrow.”