Fhima’s Last Supper
A New Climate Entering the World of Restaurateurs
“Sometimes we entertain angels unaware. David Fhima is a human turned angel in the world. There’s this idea that he transcends time soulfully whenever you’re around him. It reminds me that there are people in the world that forgive. They feed others; they’re charitable. They give, they do, and more because what hurts the hearts of others today also hurts theirs. It’s sort of the feeling that he gives off when you’re around him: Peace- I leave with you. He does so much good in the world.”
Whether its championing artists, selling NFTs, being the first restaurant owner in Minneapolis to have Web 3 screens, and running his three restaurants, Fhima’s Minneapolis, Mother Dough Bakery, and Maison Margaux, Chef David Fhima does more than serve up hospitality on a hot plate and break bread with his fellow man; he rebuilds and nourishes the soul of his community. As Fhima postulates, “How do you give back when you don’t have anything to give? You give whatever it is you have left. That’s the true definition of giving. We are restaurateurs; we’re community people. This is who we are; this is our identity.”
Coming from humble beginnings, David was the first male born out of his 17 brothers and sisters to a French Moroccan and Spanish Jewish mother and a father of Sicilian descent who was also a first male of a first male. Neither of his parents knew how to read or write, but as David implies, “My parents were probably some of the wisest people you’ll ever meet in your life.”
During his formative years, David’s parents sent him abroad to boarding schools in Europe to get a proper education, although they had no money. First, he was in London, then Paris. As opposed to jet-setting, David was often kicked out of school. While attending school in Strasbourg, France, David studied mechanical drafting. Fhima recalls that the President and Director of the school was a Holocaust Survivor and one of the most influential people in his life aside from his father. He scared Fhima straight into thinking that if he never got his act together, he never would. It left an everlasting impression on young David, changing his perception of life and the world. From there, he went to school in Geneva, Switzerland, where he received a degree in mechanical engineering.
“You can run from your blood, but your blood is inside of you. The more you move, the more it becomes closer to you. Blood moves by energy. The more I ran away from my roots, the more I connected to my DNA, my bloodline. There’s hospitality in my blood. The kindness that my father provided to others, where we had an open house to strangers literally seven days and seven nights a week. Although we had nothing to eat, there was plenty for everybody else.”
Fhima left Switzerland and came to the United States in his early 20s with 100 dollars in his pocket. “I don’t know if it literally was 100 dollars, but I’m sticking to the great immigrant story.” He arrived in Los Angeles and ran out of money within a couple of weeks. Without speaking a word of English, David managed to get work. Everything from frying chicken in East Los Angeles to making fried doughnuts in the Crenshaw District. One day, opportunity knocked at a French restaurant where Fhima’s job was peeling potatoes. The next day the Chef wasn’t available, and Fhima found himself in a position where he took over the reins, and from there, it’s a claim to fame story.
He owned a very famous restaurant called Mark’s and worked at some of the best restaurants in the world, where he catered to royalties. Everyone from Fred Astaire to Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Carson, Jeff Montgomery, and Sir Elton John, who was a partner at one of the restaurants he worked at.
In the mid-90s, Fhima came to Minnesota with what he had in a suitcase, a wife, and a young child. In the interim, he opened several restaurants, had a second child, got divorced, and met his soon-to-be wife, Lori. In 2008, life came crashing down and “humbled the shit out of me,” says David. “It was my stupidity and my lack of humble genes. When you are doing well, you think that you’re untouchable. You don’t realize that the more successful you are, the more vulnerable you become.”
Lori and I pawned our wedding rings, declared bankruptcy, did whatever we had to do to stay afloat to pay our bills, and started over again. “It was Nelson Mandela who said, “Everybody makes mistakes or experiences that something bad happens now and then. But how do you react to the challenging things that happen to you? You can either let it pull you down, or you can think that this is something you learn from. Next time something challenging happens, you’ll be even stronger.” “I can promise you that the knowledge that you gain if you are patient will be worth the lesson.”
“From that point on, “I wanted to be about service – be about community.” When Fhima lived in LA, the Rodney King riots took place and subsequently almost burned his restaurant down. Having survived the social unrest of issues during that trial, COVID, and the George Floyd brutal protests, he brought “The Gift” of giving back to others. “I took my experience and brought all these lessons together. I wanted to do something different this time around. We have the gift of cooking, we have the gift of people, but not everyone can afford these gifts. Whatever God gives us, whatever the universe shares with us, we want to be part of that. We started making meals for the community and partnered with Minnesota Central Kitchen Second Harvest. Conversely, the better you do, the goodness becomes habitual.”
When Fhima commits to doing something, whether for a holiday occasion, an art or charitable event, or simply feeding the community, he expresses that you can feed every part of your body and be satisfied. Still, you can never feed your soul enough. It’s a work in progress that needs to happen every day.
“David is a massive supporter of my art, not just of my art, but of people like Jon Linton’s art. He is one of the most generous and kind-hearted people, and up to date has been the most enjoyable collaboration of my career. He makes me a better artist. David is on the frontlines everyday feeding the community, converges Stephanie.”
Stephanie and David met six years ago through one of her interns before his restaurant’s opening in Minneapolis. They spoke about everything from art, food, nutrition, and cancer. David helped catapult her career by requesting seven pieces for his home and creating all the pieces for the restaurant. “David took a big chance on me publicly to showcase my work, and because of that opportunity, I was able to parlay that experience and get opportunities throughout the Twin Cities.”
“When you look at Stephanie’s art, you know exactly who we are and what we stand for,” mentions David. I’m a little biased because she uses the word fuck easily -although I don’t have issues with that, but her art demonstrates an act of kindness. Through her art, she represents what our city is all about and tells our narrative. When our city was blowing up, Stephanie’s art helped ease the conflict and found beauty through the struggle for unity. She is also one of our most significant contributors and supporters. Art happens when there’s a convergence of food, music, and pictures.”
This brings me to the Metaverse. David responded, “There’s a magic between the Metaverse and food. Art has a synergy between what is tangible and intangible. The pairing between Stephanie’s art and my cooking in this new medium can be shared and simultaneously has its own individual experience. There’s no wrong or right recipe. We do everything with our three major senses. Our eyes, our nose, and our ears. Those are the first and greatest impressions we have. We can smell the cumin when we hear that little first note of the violin. When we see this beautiful picture, we can taste its essence. We immediately enter a world of thought, creativity, inspiration, and motivation. I can look at a dish and almost smell and taste it. This is where the magic begins and happens.”
David’s biggest passion is to spread good in the world. He wants his brand to be his identity. Stephanie looks back on last Christmas when the pipes in Fhima’s burst and David was committed to cooking 2000 meals under the duress of it raining inside the kitchen. David didn’t even stress; he just kept going without a hitch. Committed and dedicated are the words that come to mind.
When queried about his regrets, David complied, “There are many anecdotes, many different things we do. I did not want anything to do with my backward heritage. I thought it was primitive. Reflecting on my life, I realized that my mother motivated me, and that’s a pretty powerful thing. My other regret is having regrets. No longer do I sweat the small stuff. I’m blessed to have a wonderful soul mate, children, friends, and community. That’s all that really matters. And when all else fails, – Cook.”
In the lyrics of Frank Sinatra,
I tell you, I can’t deny it.
I thought of quitting, baby
But my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
And if I didn’t think it was worth one single try
I’d jump right on a big bird, and then I’d fly
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet
A pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin’
Flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get
Back in the race. “
All Artworks by the collective of Stephanie Dillon & Linnea Maas