“Authenticity is a permanent work on oneself when we are opened to what life presents to us. All our history, our encounters, our failures and our successes; they will find their convergence one day to unify us more and give us the strength to assert our identity to the world. I have 20 years of experience now in cooking, and I have always been consistent and faithful to myself and to my passion for French cuisine since childhood. But I lacked the confidence and my story remained hidden from the public because I couldn’t dare to unveil myself in with my name and signature, and with a cuisine that expressed who I am. This Michelin star award finally comes to crown this reconciliation which is a gift to the others; and it is in this restaurant that I felt right away that I would finally be myself, assuming my background and my past.
In reality, a good Chef is one who knows how to accommodate leftovers and recreate new tastes with simple products. It is also someone who updates the traditional and ordinary recipes, with seasonal ingredients, but especially who prepares them with a lot of love. That’s why, for me who comes from Lebanon, working the oriental products and spices are not the same as a talented chef who would introduce them to experimentation in his cuisine. It is my true story that I tell each time to make customers travel and find happiness in the plate. I compose for example with pomegranate molasses, cinnamon, cumin or zaatar (a variety of oregano), but also by revisiting all the tasty dishes and desserts that marked my childhood. These ingredients are not there for a fad, as were the spices and Japanese condiments like yuzu, miso or sake at a moment, but to express truly what I am. I also think that all the great cuisines of the world must be renewed to offer unexpected associations, because this diversity is the world we are living in. My cuisine is 90% French gastronomy, with the influences of Lebanon; I will therefore give myself up entirely and also put my curiosity, my need to learn and constantly create dishes that give emotions, pleasure and joy.
Lebanon is amazing! A small country, and despite the hard moments of its history, it remains a model of welcoming, with so much richness in its historical, natural and gastronomic heritage. Most of all, it has a human warmth which does not have any equal to fill the hearts, and that none of our material belongings can achieve in our Western countries. That’s why I have chills every time the plane lands at Beirut airport. Yes, I am attached to my roots, and to everything that has been transmitted to me. My mother especially, because she marked me by her great generosity and self-sacrifice, and I liked the cooking by watching her do: all these loving gestures and creative resources to offer tasty and good dishes, even in a modest home.
That’s why it’s important to change our perception of gastronomy. There is no need to deal with expensive products such as caviar or morels; on the contrary, you can sublimate a dish with very simple products, such as Parisian mushrooms, chickpeas or wheat. You just have to cook with passion and put love in what you do. The Lebanese Earth kitchen recipes abound of it! The lentils reworked with the bread of the day before, in a crispy texture, to give a subtle taste to the coriander soup, called Mujjadarrah. Or other treasures as Harra Bi Isbaou or Melazzet al Banat. I recently worked on Hajje, an omelette with parsley, or Fateh, a dish made from Laban, homemade Lebanese yoghurt, and I’ll soon be making a taboulé with cherry-lacquered grilled octopus and black garlic. So I have no signature dishes, but quality products re-invented, with a little Lebanese flavor, for a combination of taste. I do not hesitate to bring some products directly from there, like Bou Sfeir, a bitter orange, that I marinate with the flesh of crabs, Mahlab or Meské which are special aromatic spices, or the orange blossom and rose waters.
In the end, true luxury is this simplicity and exceptional diversity that is shared with people. But it is also above all the health, both physical and mental, for oneself and for the ones we love. Then it is being able to satisfy our basic needs, like drinking, eating and having a roof over your head. All the rest would be a plus, because the most important thing is to love and find pleasure in everything we do, and especially in the most ordinary things. I cultivate this philosophy of life. Every morning, I tell myself that I will do better today than the day before, in my work and my relationships, then I will look to move forward without turning around, remaining constant and always calm and serein. Authenticity is therefore an endless path and we do not know in advance where it will lead us. We just have to believe in ourselves and in our dreams, and open eyes and ears. Because chance always opens doors for us, but we must know how to welcome it and sometimes even make luck happen.”
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on June 1, 2018, in Paris
Link to the website of the 1* Guide Michelin Alan Geaam Restaurant
Read also the portrait of Alan Geaam