“Mediterranean cuisine is warm, welcoming. It means togetherness, it’s a reunion. No need for a big occasion or a party, we’re just all around the table. It’s a simmering cuisine, colourful and full of sun”. When Chef Geaam talks about food and cooking, his face lights up and you suddenly glimpse the kid from Lebanon, who loved reading culinary magazines about French cuisine. “I used to think that French cuisine was not simply cooking, it was art, paintings. It was my childhood dream to go to Paris and learn how to make foie gras, baguette or pastries.”
Alan Geaam is a natural traveller. Born in Liberia, he moved to his parents’ native Lebanon when the war broke out. He spent 15 years in a conflict-ridden country that still holds his childhood memories. After trying his luck in Italy, the Czech Republic and the US, Geaam packed his bag for Paris. He arrived in the capital with 200 francs in his pocket, and no diploma. “If the people that believed in me in 2000 hadn’t, when I didn’t speak French, when I was an immigrant, I would not be a starred chef at the head of four of my own restaurants today”. Hard work, conviction and passion, that’s the chef’s recipe to success (plus olive oil, of course).
Alan Geaam says it himself, he’s a 100% French but… Lebanon is present in every day he works, every dish he creates and every childhood memory he cherishes. He calls those memories “good unfortunate memories”. “What I remember from Lebanon, except for the war, is the sound of cooking pots. My room was right next to the kitchen. Every day, my mum woke up at 5am to start cooking. Sometimes I woke up to bombing noises, sometimes to my mum banging pans and pots and dishes simmering”.
His love for preparing food, the Franco-Lebanese chef got it from his mum. “She passed on a lot of emotions to me through her cooking. She taught me how to love people and how to transfer emotions when I cook for them”. Family is still at the centre of his current business. “Yesterday, I ate a dish made by my niece in my bistro: humous and fried shawarma. It was an explosion of flavours”.
The autodidact, now a Michelin-starred chef is insanely proud of his familial legacy. “I went neither to cooking school nor to business school. But I was lucky to have my mother pass on her love of cooking to me and my dad who gave me a sense of commerce”. This is why obtaining a Michelin star meant so much. For Geaam, it means anything is possible.
The chef loves highlighting that France is fully part of the Mediterranean, along with so many rich and varied countries. “Mediterranean cuisine is present in 99% of the dishes I cook. All the countries of the Mediterranean, we have a lot of produce in common, but we all prepare it in a different way. When I create a new dish, I either start with a French recipe and then I inject Lebanese influences in it, or I start with a traditional recipe from Lebanon and I use French culinary techniques”. It’s this exchange that keeps Geaam on his toes and keeps his creativity flowing. It took him 18 years to fully accept his mixed roots and to trust in the flavourful blend it produces.
The culinary magician doesn’t describe himself as just a cook. “I’m not a simple cook. I’m a unifier of all human beings, around a table whatever their religion, their political affiliation, if they agree or not. Cooking means peace, sharing, hospitality, joie de vivre and humanity. Cooking is everything for me.”