Lebanese restaurant attracts star support following Beirut blasts

The decades-old Le Chef restaurant, located in the heart of Beirut's trendy Gemmayzeh district, is pictured on August 13, 2020 following a huge chemical explosion at Beirut's port that devastated large parts of the Lebanese capital. (AFP)
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Updated 15 August 2020

Lebanese restaurant attracts star support following Beirut blasts

  • Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe donated $5,000 to the fund, set up by a group of Beirut-based foreign correspondents
  • Operating on a plat-du-jour formula, each day of the week would serve a homemade Lebanese specialty

LONDON: Lebanese restaurant Le Chef found an unlikely high-profile supporter after a GoFundMe page was set up to save the diner from ruin following the Beirut blasts on August 4.

Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe donated $5,000 to the fund, set up by a group of Beirut-based foreign correspondents.

When Richard Hall, one of the organizers and the former-Beirut correspondent of UK daily The Independent, highlighted the generous donation, Crowe tweeted: “On behalf of Anthony Bourdain. I thought that he would have probably done so if he was still around. I wish you and LeChef the best and hope things can be put back together soon.” Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain took his life two years ago.

Tucked away in the middle of the Gemmayze district, Le Chef – commonly seen as one of Beirut’s must-try hole-in-the-wall diners for tourists – was badly damaged in the recent blast.

The tiny diner with its neon-red logo and checkered tables was second home to many of the street’s residents and the country’s foreign correspondents. It featured in Bourdain’s report from Beirut during his travel show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations in 2006.

BACKGROUND

The tiny diner with its neon-red logo and checkered tables was second home to many of the street’s residents and the country’s foreign correspondents.

“And yet I'd already fallen in love with Beirut. We all had — everyone on my crew. As soon as we'd landed, headed into town, there was a reaction I can only describe as pheromonic: The place just smelled good. Like a place we were going to love,” Bourdain’s field notes during his time on CNN's Parts Unknown said.

Operating on a plat-du-jour formula, each day of the week would serve a homemade Lebanese specialty – with Thursday’s mloukhiyye and rice a favorite among many journalists, according to Arab News’ correspondent Leila Hatoum.

“When I worked as a reporter based in Gemmayze between 2002 and 2006, Le Chef was the restaurant that provided home-cooked style meals at such affordable prices and in generous quantities…each dish literally could feed two persons,” Hatoum said.

“It was the meeting point for every reporter in the area, be it foreign or local. I would say Le Chef was the ‘it’ place for affordable but great home-cooked food.”

Other dishes include rice and lamb (kharouf mehshi) on Mondays, spiced Lebanese couscous with chicken (moughrabiyye) on Tuesdays, kibbeh bil sayniyye on Wednesdays, rice and fish (sayyidiye) on Fridays and roast lamb with potatoes on Saturdays.

“Le Chef was different, everything they served was as though my mom cooked it,” Netherlands-based designer Rawad Baaklini told Arab News.

“And it was so cheap! Their dishes were big compared to the price they charged. They used to deliver, so for me ordering from them was like eating at home,” Baaklini said, recalling his time working at a studio based in the area.

“My favorite dish was the kibbeh bel sayniyye … It was magical, I don’t know how they made it, but it was every time great.”


Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

Updated 21 September 2020

Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

  • UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast
  • Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week
BEIRUT: Lebanon has retrieved the bodies of four people including a child after they tried to flee the crisis-hit country by sea on an overloaded dinghy, the civil defense said Monday.
A week ago, UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast.
Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week, during which time several passengers had died or jumped overboard to find help.
The bodies are presumed to be from the same ill-fated crossing.
Since Friday, “we have retrieved four bodies — belonging to two Lebanese, one of whom was a child, a young Indian man and a Syrian man,” Samir Yazbek, the head of the civil defense’s sea rescue unit, told AFP.
The bodies were found in four separate locations off the north and south coasts of the country, and the search was ongoing, he added.
The UN refugee agency said last week that 25 Syrians, eight Lebanese and three people of other nationalities had been rescued from the boat.
It is unclear how many men, women and children originally clambered aboard the dinghy, and therefore how many are still missing.
On Saturday, the navy said it would step up its searches within and outside Lebanon’s territorial waters to find any other victims.
Relatives of those who went missing from the impoverished north Lebanese city of Tripoli say the people smuggler involved in the crossing has dropped off the radar since the tragedy.
They have filed three legal complaints against the man, who they say is a well-known figure in the community.
A military source on Saturday said a person acting as an intermediary between passengers and the boat owner had been arrested.
In recent weeks, dozens of Lebanese and Syrians have tried to make the perilous sea journey from Lebanon to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, authorities on both sides say.
The Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member, lies just 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.
Lebanon is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades, compounded since February by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It is also reeling from a monster blast at Beirut’s port last month that killed more than 190 people, ravaged large parts of the capital and reignited public anger against the political class.