Hotels remain memorable for different reasons, mainly because they are exceptionally good or bad.
Few, like the Phoenicia in Beirut, are part and parcel of the fabric of the city. This building has been through wars, literally, and has the scars to prove it. People instantly reminisce when you mention this hotel. Anyone here will tell you it was the place to be for all the old movie stars, and the glitterati.
There are also people still around who can tell you of these times such as Mr. Ibrahim Bazzi, 54 years old, the shoe shine guy, who has been in the hotel since 2000, or the coffee man, his name is Mr. Nassib Talih, who’s 85 years old and has been working in the hotel since 2000, if only you could speak some Lebanese.
Chef Franck runs the kitchens here. He is a friendly and cheery Frenchman with a strong accent, who is chatty, and keen to constantly applaud and motivate his staff.
"I grew up in the country side in a small village in south east of France. My father had a farm where I use to spend most of my time enjoying nature the gift of god. My father was a butcher, he had his own butchery where he served his farm grown meat. My mother was talented and loved cooking; she developed the butchery into a delicacy where she served traditional French plates," he says.
And although he grew-up surrounded by food, he didn’t always want to be a chef.
"To be honest with you it was my last chance to do something useful in my life. I didn't like school, I loved freedom and hanging out all day enjoying my childhood with my friends, when my parents decided to enrol me in boarding school. Later on I got the opportunity to be taken as apprentice. At that moment I was lucky to be guided by a passionate chef. It was vital to me," he says.
He ended up in Lebanon by pure chance.
After competing on the show “Meilleur Ouvrier De France” twice, being a finalist and not winning, one of his colleagues suggested a job at the Phoenicia Intercontinental Beirut.
"The first few months were hard on me because of the language barrier, I had to work twice more than others to be able to carry on the responsibilities. With hard work and a drop of ambition, I grew up and my responsibilities grew, too. Beirut as a city means a lot to me, I have built up my own family there and god gifted my two children," he continues.
He didn’t really know that much about the country and food before he arrived.
"I had a preconceived idea about Lebanese cuisine, and didn't get the opportunity to taste it before my arrival to Lebanon. I use to hear about Lebanon from the news during the civil war; I didn't really have a great knowledge about the country."
Of Lebanese food, he says, "It is an interesting cuisine, healthy and varied. I enjoy revisiting it, and adding a French touch without touching the DNA of the recipe. It is very cultural and social where a group of people can share the same plate.
At the hotel we serve tailor made menus according to customer's demand. French and Italian cuisines are presents in 2 different restaurants. Lebanese and Asian specialties are served at the International buffet in the all day dining restaurant and In room dining. Our pastry is well known, Oriental and International desserts are served."
He has a team of 115 chefs and 55 stewards.
His favourite Lebanese dishes are "the famous Hummus, the moutabal made with grilled eggplants, the Lebanese tabboule, and my revisited Tabboule version 2020," he says. "I enjoy also a chicken tawk with a lot of garlic cream and some Lebanese pickles."