DUBAI: A little over two years ago, French-Lebanese chef Karim Haidar, 51, opened his contemporary restaurant Askini in the 10th arrondissement of Paris and now, during the lockdown in Paris, the restauranteur has a new mission.
Due to COVID-19 and the related stay-at-home measures in place, Askini, like many other local restaurants, has temporarily closed. But nevertheless, the lawyer-turned-restauranteur is making efficient use of the confinement with a new mission of feeding nearly 100 Lebanese students residing in the French capital.
“Because of Lebanon’s economic situation and bank-related problems, Lebanese students haven’t been receiving money from their families,” explained Haidar. “In addition to the confinement, students aren’t able to do their side jobs to make a living in Paris.”
After consulting with the Lebanese Embassy in Paris, Haidar was advised to reach out to La Maison du Liban, a large dormitory that has accommodated Lebanese students since its foundation in the 1960s. Haidar noted that many of the students faced difficulties accessing food during these trying times.
Thanks to generous donations made through social media channels and a GoFundMe campaign, set up by Askini, money has been raised to purchase ingredients and produce approximately 1,000 meals. So far, a total of 300-350 meals, which are lovingly made and separately packaged, have been delivered to La Maison du Liban on a weekly basis.
Prepared by Haidar and a colleague, they aim to cook up a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, made up of appetizer bites, filling starters and home cooking-style main meals. “Hopefully, these meals remind them of home,” told Haidar, who made his way from Lebanon to France in 1985.
“We love to help,” said Haidar, who plans to continue offering meals to the students. “We love to feed people and make them happy. Since we are not able to feed our customers, we might as well be of service in other ways.”
At his casual, bistro-style eatery Askini, Haidar is known for recreating Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes with starling flair, presenting them in the form of tapas and mezze. Among Askini’s favorites are falafel fries, fried anchovies with sumac, and croissant perdu topped with rose and pistachios.
“My food is known for having a bit of a twist,” said Haidar, an advocate of promoting Arabic cuisine as founder of Paris’ Academy of Arab Cuisine, to Arab News. “We like to renew our dishes, because we are open to new ideas and we feel that we have the freedom to experiment through our cooking.”