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.”


What’s your status? Ten facts to mark the 30th World AIDS Day

A woman walks by the Pyramid of Cestius is illuminated in red for the World AIDS Day, in Rome, on Friday, Nov. 30 2018. (AP)
Updated 01 December 2018
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What’s your status? Ten facts to mark the 30th World AIDS Day

  • The first cases of AIDS are reported among gay men in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York
  • The disease is found in several European countries, including Britain and France

LONDON: The global campaign to end AIDS has made significant strides but the epidemic remains one of the world’s leading public health challenges, affecting almost 37 million people.
Campaigners say one of the biggest challenges in the fight to end AIDS is encouraging people to get tested and making them aware of treatment and prevention services.
The theme of the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, which shows support for people living with HIV and commemorates those who have died, is “Know your Status.”
Here are 10 facts about HIV/AIDS.

- About 35 million people have died from AIDS- or HIV-related illnesses since 1981, including 940,000 in 2017.
- Increased awareness and access to antiretroviral drugs have more than halved the number of AIDS-related deaths since 2004.
- An estimated 77 million people have become infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic in 1981, including 1.8 million in 2017.
- Every week, almost 7,000 young women aged between 15 and 24 are infected with HIV.
- In sub-Saharan Africa young women are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men.
- South Africa has the world’s highest HIV prevalence, with almost one in five people infected.
- One in four people, about 9 million, are unaware that they are HIV-positive.
- UNAIDS wants nine in 10 people to know their status by 2020.
- Almost 22 million people were accessing antiretroviral drugs in 2017, compared with 8 million in 2010.
- Eight out of 10 pregnant women living with HIV received treatment in 2017, compared with less than half in 2010. Sources: UNAIDS, World Health Organization, Avert, HIV.gov