Homeless Lebanese dishwasher becomes Michelin-starred chef

One of alan Geaam’s favorite dishes at the moment is “an escalope of foie gras lacquered with pomegranate molasses served with a tartlette of beetroot and pomegranate. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Homeless Lebanese dishwasher becomes Michelin-starred chef

PARIS: When Lebanese chef Alan Geaam first arrived in Paris two decades ago he found himself sleeping on the streets, lost and penniless with hardly a word of French.
This week Geaam, who began his career as a dishwasher while he was sleeping rough in a Paris park, received his first Michelin star from the French gastronomic bible for his acclaimed new restaurant within a stone’s throw of the Arc de Triomphe.
“I never thought the Michelin would be interested in someone like me, who was self-taught, who had to sleep in the street at 19 and who began as a dishwasher,” he said.
“I thought the guide was about chefs in big fancy hotels or those trained by the great masters. But it turned out to be the opposite. It’s a wonderful surprise,” said the 43-year-old, who was born to Lebanese parents in Liberia, before they exchanged one war zone for another by returning to Beirut.
By then Geaam’s fascination with food was clear, watching cookery shows on television rather than cartoons after school.
He started cooking while doing his national service in Lebanon, and the colonel of his regiment was so impressed he made him his personal chef.
But Geaam never thought we would be able to cut the mustard in France, and only got his break when the chef of the restaurant where he was washing the dishes was rushed to hospital when he slashed his hand with a knife.
“I worked during the day as a construction worker and at night delivering pizzas and washing dishes. One night the cook cut his hand and had to go to hospital. No one asked me, but I just took over. There were 14 tables and so I just feed the customers and at the end of the night they were delighted.
“The owner said to me, ‘But you can cook!’ and I said, ‘Yes.’“
“The reason I cook is to make people happy,” said Geaam. And he has certainly spread joy among restaurant critics with Michelin’s rival Gault Millau guide raving about his langoustines and chard and its dark chocolate-colored sauce tinged with Vietnamese cardamom.
Alexander Lobrano, author of “Hungry for Paris,” was even more effusive, declaring this “gentle, shrewd, self-taught chef as one of quiet men of Paris gastronomy ... who has a brilliant future ahead of him.”
Although Geaam delights in bringing the very best of French produce to his table, Lobrano said he also brings the “tender buds of his very personal cooking that makes references to the lost world of a little boy born to a foreign family living in tropical Africa.”
And the influence of his Lebanese roots is never far away either.
One of Geaam’s favorite dishes at the moment is “an escalope of foie gras lacquered with pomegranate molasses served with a tartlette of beetroot and pomegranate.
“I ate a lot of pomegranates when I was a kid,” he said. “I made juice with them, I made lots of reductions with them, and I loved putting this very Lebanese touch with something so French as foie gras.”
Since Geaam got his Michelin star on Monday night his restaurant’s phone has not stopped ringing.
His said his small, tight team of highly-talented chefs — whose CVs he admits look far more impressive than his own — “really feel that something has happened in our lives.
“You can criticize the Michelin guide but I can tell you the effect, a star massively boosts a restaurant.”
Within hours the restaurant was booked up for three weeks. “It is quite something,” he said.
Geaam, who told how his son boasted to his friends at school that his father got a Michelin star, put his success down to his own parents, who “lost everything” in Liberia only to have to struggle again in Lebanon during the civil war.
He said working with his father in his grocery shop from the age of 10 gave him a taste for business while his mother “taught me how to love people and how to cook.”


Jazz Pharma’s sleep disorder treatment gets US FDA nod

Updated 52 min 21 sec ago
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Jazz Pharma’s sleep disorder treatment gets US FDA nod

  • The drug, solriamfetol, will treat excessive sleepiness in adult patients with narcolepsy or obstructive sleep apnea
  • The patent of Jazz's narcolepsy drug, Xyrem, were declared invalid by a US appeals court in July
The US Food and Drug Administration approved Jazz Pharmaceuticals Plc’s treatment for patients with a form of sleep disorder, the company said on Wednesday.
The drug, solriamfetol, will treat excessive sleepiness in adult patients with narcolepsy or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Solriamfetol is expected to be commercially available in the United States following the final scheduling decision by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Jazz said in a statement.
The approval comes as Jazz is trying to reduce its reliance on its blockbuster narcolepsy drug, Xyrem, whose patents were declared invalid by a US appeals court in July.
Xyrem is an approved treatment for excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy in patients with narcolepsy. It brought in sales of $1.4 billion in 2018 and accounted for about 70 percent of company’s revenue.
“Jazz is trying to reduce its reliance on Xyrem, and solriamfetol will be one of the drugs it plans to launch to do that,” Mizuho Securities USA analyst Irina Koffler said ahead of the agency’s decision.
“Solriamfetol is expected to be an important driver of both diversification and growth,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Randall Stanicky said in a note ahead of the approval.
Solriamfetol is expected to bring in revenue of $314 million by 2024, Stanicky said.
Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder with overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep, while obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder that can cause breathing to repeatedly stop and start.
“Narcolepsy is very disabling to people as they often get diagnosed young and stop their education and drop out of high school or college,” Koffler said.
“Sleep apnea is a different problem in the sense that a lot of people don’t know they have it, have trouble breathing at night and they even fall asleep during the day.”