The Little Port is in mourning. And with it, the entire city of Menton. On Wednesday, Gaby died. Gabriel Santucci, in the civil status, even if it is a safe bet that few people had fun to decline his name. It was Gaby. A figure from Menton in four letters that everyone knew, from near or far. With a mouth as big as the heart.
Some discovered him at the Hôtel du Parc, where he cut his teeth at the age of 18. Others at the Queenie, the nightclub of which he had become the boss and where George Weah – the footballer who became president – sometimes improvised as a pizza maker. Others still at the Golden Lion, opposite the Halles market, where he remained for 25 years. Or at the beach of the Napoleon hotel.
Since 2007, Gaby had become the captain of the Petit Port. At the head of a very family crew: his wife Lisa in the dining room, his sister Nicole in the kitchen. His son Boris in training.
“With him, it was a party every night”
“I was born in a restaurant”, often told the one who, at 10, climbed on a wooden stool to reach the percolator of the coffee machine. Him, the son of Henri, goalkeeper of the Decazes stadium. Victor’s grandson, an Italian who had fought fascism.
“He arrived in France barefoot. Menton. Then Toulon. There he met Fernandel”, reported Gaby, who has kept a mad love for popular cinema. Fernandel, therefore, but also Raimu, Pagnol. Even if in all the establishments he managed, the star was him.
“We came for the quality dishes, but also for the character. With him, it was a party every night. It was the show, as we will never find him in a restaurant again. excellence, and those who came to eat were not customers but friends. He was always attentive, sat down at each table after his service to share a moment with them”, emphasizes Karim Djekhar of Huilerie Saint-Michel, who knew Gaby as a supplier and never really left him. One evening, at Napoleon, the book of reservations thus included no normal name. There were only Gaby’s friends.
“At the Lion d’Or as at the Petit Port, you never knew what to expectcontinues the craftsman. We often heard rude words that only Gaby could let go. Another boss would have done it, he would have closed shop soon after…! But in his mouth, it meant I love you.”
Gaby was thus facetious with tourists. Going so far as to offer a clitoris salad on the menu. “And on order! At 69 euros per 100 grams, a bargain. 80% of them are women who ask me what it is. I tell them that it’s a mollusc that we fish on the rocks! Excellent with vinegar”, he explained at the time, hilarious. Not really decided to retire, because, he said, “I walk in the heart and I always have for this profession”.
Stan Smith Ambassador in Menton
Today, Karim Djekhar has a thought for all those close to Gaby. In particular Loulou Garnero, with whom he has lived so many things. And his family who meant so much, of course. “They were always three, with his sister Nicole and Lisa. And never did anything without each other”summarizes Karim.
Recalling that Gaby used to say that her brother was the good one. His sister, mother Teresa. And him, Lucifer. But a nice Lucifer, says his friend. “When he was looking for a specific product, he called me. And I bent over backwards to find what he needed. We all wanted to please him, because we knew that he would have done it reciprocally”he adds.
The manager of Huilerie Saint-Michel also expresses his pain for the spiritual sons of Gaby. The ones he took under his wing, never taking off his Stan Smiths – even when the fashion had passed – arguing that people would end up wearing them again if they saw them at his feet. Now in their thirties, these young people shaped by the Gaby method have gradually built up a great breeding ground for catering. Including in Monaco. Angelo is the example.
Now employed at the Monte-Carlo Bay, he started working at the age of 18 at Napoleon beach. “Gaby taught me everything, he made us men. When you spend between 12 and 1 p.m. with someone, he educates you. He had become a member of my family, he taught me accompanied in all the episodes of my life. He had an open mind – a less narrow vision than mine – with old-fashioned principles”, he explains. Emphasizing that even today he cuts the fish like Gaby did. And that it may well be that somewhere, in Tahiti, this technique is also essential. Because another foal passed by the Santucci school – FX – officiates there.
“We wanted him to be proud of us”
“Several times, Gaby picked him up to put him back on the right track. FX was remobilizing for fear of disappointing him. And Gaby thus opened up other horizons for him.says Angelo. We all wanted to be Gaby, so much so that we all bought ourselves a pearl necklace to look like him… Everywhere we went after that, we wanted him to be proud of us.”
For the thirties, Gaby had a great quality: he managed to make everyone feel that he mattered to him. Every smile, every expression of sympathy was a gift. “Even though he was very hard at work, and uncompromising”, nuance Angelo, for whom Gaby was a second dad, and the uncle of her children. And Karim Djekhar to conclude, his voice strangled: “His death breaks the hearts of many. We all lose a little piece of ourselves…”