It's a twist on the Dick Whittington tale. Among the many restaurants and chefs that picked up stars in France in this week's Michelin guide, one is a classic rags to riches tale; a heart-warming human interest tale of triumph.
A self-taught Lebanese chef, Alan Geaam, who slept rough in a park while washing dishes in a restaurant when he first arrived in Paris, penniless and without much French some 20 years ago, has just won his first Michelin star for his eponymous Paris restaurant.
The story has it all – immigrant child done good, high-end food, a moody Paris setting, and a chance piece of luck that led to the big break.
This week's Michelin Guide announcement said its selection "reveals how Paris attracts chefs from around the world who want to open their own restaurants in the capital", and among the examples it has singled out is self-taught chef Alan Geaam, who "gives his dishes a touch of Lebanon – his home country".
Meals in Geaam’s restaurant on Rue Lauriston near Arc de Triomphe, where “dishes with distinct flavours are carefully prepared to a consistently high standard”, according to Michelin, are €40 (lunch) or €60/€80 (dinner). The Michelin inspectors write in the guide “Everyone has heard of the American dream, but Alan Geaam prefers the French version! Moving to Paris at the age of 24, he has climbed the rungs of the ladder of gastronomy. His original recipes combine France’s rich culinary heritage with touches from his native Lebanon and his commitment and passion can be sampled in each creation.”
The 43-year-old, who was born to Lebanese parents in Liberia and then moved back to Beirut, told AFP: “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.”
Ah, but Geaam underestimates the interest in his trajectory. The storyline is worthy of a movie plot:
While the penniless rough sleeper (who has just moved to romantic Paris from a warzone, aged either 19 or 24 depending on who you believe) has his arms deep in the washing-up sink one night in the restaurant, the chef – surely he is both gifted and highly strung – dramatically cuts himself with a cleaver (maybe this was a small knife; some latitude here) and is rushed to hospital.
Fourteen diners are sitting hungrily in the dining room and the washer-upper, who spent his childhood watching cookery programmes rather than cartoons, wordlessly starts to cook for them. They are all delighted with the top nosh. Many years and excellent reviews later he wins a Michelin star in the shadow of the Ard de Triomphe.
That’ll do it: a yarn to warm the cockles of the heart (after cooking them, probably).