This confinement has also birthed great stories. Solidarity initiatives are certainly multiplying, creating bonds in spite of social distancing. That’s what has kept the Franco-Lebanese chef Karim Haidar and his team busy, in his 10th arrondissement restaurant, Askini. Their new mission since the start of the lockdown? Preparing delicious food for Lebanese students confined in Paris.
On Saturday, March 14th, in France, the news breaks: all restaurants are called to shut their doors “until further notice.” The announcement sends shock waves and concern for everyone in the food industry, namely for Karim Haidar and his partners. “We isolated ourselves,” says the chef. But having lived in Lebanon during the war, Karim Haidar experienced far more complex confinements, ones with a lack of electricity, water, contact with others and sometimes food. “It was impossible for us to even look out a window or even get close to one,” he recalls. These experiences, however, provide him with the ability to put things into perspective. He knows that for other people, confinement can be much more difficult. Passionate and generous, Karim Haidar decides to support Lebanese students by way of his kitchen.
How was this project born? And why was it dear to your heart?
Alongside my colleagues, we immediately thought of the Lebanese students that we knew were already weakened by the financial crisis in Lebanon. And who, as a result, were no longer receiving help from their parents. Then, the confinement in Paris was a fatal blow. They could no longer do internships or work to support themselves. We then approached the Maison du Liban (House of Lebanon) and we noticed that the students had a very simple problem: buying food. So we decided, as a first step, to offer them a few meals. But very quickly, we realized that there was a greater need. We then made an appeal for donations from the Lebanese community. This allowed us to cook and deliver meals on a long-term basis, while adapting to the current context. As the students are confined to their rooms, the meals are brought to them in individual trays.
What types of dishes do you prepare for students? And what are you trying to communicate through your cooking?
We make sure that our meals are as complete as possible, with protein, carbohydrates and lots of greens. They are hearty, and evoke home, family and meals shared with others. A kind of comfort food in sum! The idea is not to provide a restaurant cuisine, but rather that of the land, of Lebanon. I knew that our approach was right when a young girl told me that these little dishes reminded her of her mother’s cooking. According to the messages I received, the initiative is very popular and brings a lot of comfort.
During Ramadan, do you offer anything special?
It will indeed be Ramadan when we serve our next meal. The 1,000th! We’ll continue to build our momentum, introducing a few special touches that remind us of Ramadan. It could be a particular soup as an appetizer, a salad for some freshness or a small date for those who are fasting. On the other hand, we avoid products high in salt, which make you thirsty. All the more so as summer approaches! As for the delivery, it is necessary to know that the meals are delivered at the end of the day, around 6 or 7pm. The students are then free to eat them whenever they want, and even split them in two portions, as they are copious.