Homeless dishwasher who taught himself to cook wins Michelin star for his Paris restaurant

"I thought the guide was about chefs in big fancy hotels or those trained by the great masters. But it turned out to be the opposite. It's a wonderful surprise."

Lebanese chef Alan Geaam was understandably shocked at winning his first Michelin star this week for his restaurant located near the Arc de Triomphe.

Since getting the coveted culinary accolade, the phone at Geaam's restaurant hasn't stopped ringing.

It's a far cry from his arrival in Paris more than 20 years ago when he had to sleep in a Paris park while he worked as a dishwasher.

Geamm, who was born in Liberia before his parents "lost everything" in the civil war there - forcing them to return to another civil war in 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."

The 43-year-old, who couldn't speak a word of French when he first came to the country, only got his break when the chef of the restaurant where he was washing the dishes cut his hand with a knife.

He had to be rushed to hospital, and Geaam stepped in to fill the gap.

He explained: "I worked during the day as a construction worker and at night delivering pizzas and washing dishes. One night the cook cut his hand and had to go to hospital. No one asked me, but I just took over. There were 14 tables and so I just fed the customers and at the end of the night they were delighted.

"The owner said to me, 'But you can cook!' and I said, 'Yes.'"

His love of cooking was evident when he would watch cookery shows on television rather than cartoons after school.

During his national service in Lebanon, the colonel of his regiment was so impressed with his culinary skills, he made him his personal chef.

Geaam said: "The reason I cook is to make people happy," and he never strays far from his Lebanese roots with one of his favourite dishes using an ingredient central to his childhood.

That dish is an escalope of foie gras lacquered with pomegranate molasses served with a tartlette of beetroot and pomegranate, and Geaam said: "I ate a lot of pomegranates when I was a kid.

"I made juice with them, I made lots of reductions with them, and I loved putting this very Lebanese touch with something so French as foie gras."

He also explained that he got his head for business after years of working with his father in his grocery shop while his mother "taught me how to love people and how to cook".

Geaam, who told how his son boasted to his friends at school that his father got a Michelin star, also said his small team of chefs "really feel that something has happened in our lives" since getting the star from the French gastronomic bible.

He said: "You can criticise the Michelin guide but I can tell you the effect, a star massively boosts a restaurant."

They are booked out for the next three weeks since the news.

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