Refugees cook up a storm to win hearts

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By SE­BASTIEN MALO

BEAM­ING with pride, a Nepalese refugee in the kitchen of a New York caterer holds up cau­li­flower flo­rets she has steamed, bat­tered and fried, part of a cook­ing reper­toire she says earns her a liv­ing and keeps her spir­its up.

At home in Kath­mandu, ex­plains Rachana, who did not want to give her full name, cook­ing once brought her plea­sure as she fed her fam­ily del­i­ca­cies from recipes in­her­ited from her mother.

Then political vi­o­lence struck, leav­ing a close rel­a­tive dead and forc­ing her to flee the coun­try. Now her hap­pi­ness re­turns, she says, when she pre­pares tra­di­tional spe­cial­ties for Eat Off­beat, a New York food com­pany where refugees make and de­liver eth­nic fare.

The start- up com­pany is one of sev­eral ini­tia­tives across the United States which ap­peal to the ap­petites of Amer­i­cans and give refugees op­por­tu­ni­ties to make a liv­ing. Oth­ers are lo­cated in Cal­i­for­nia, Utah and Texas.

“It’s a very, very good feel­ing when peo­ple come to eat my food, and they talk about how good it is,” Rachana said.

On a re­cent day in the com­pany’s kitchen, she paced be­tween a counter and stove top where oil was heated for the cau­li­flower, to be served with a tangy tomato and ta­mari sauce flavoured with fenu­greek.

Al­though the cau­li­flower is a Chi­nese dish, Rachana, 53, said she de­vel­oped her own ver­sion in Nepal. “From the age of 16, I’ve been cook­ing,” she said.

Half a dozen refugees have found work at Eat Off­beat.

Un­til Rachana be­came a full­time chef, she scraped by for nearly a decade in New York, speak­ing no English at first and tak­ing odd jobs. Now she tells other Eat Off­beat work­ers: “Don't worry, you can get what­ever you like here. This is Amer­ica.”

Ini­tia­tives such as Eat Off­beat can serve as coun­ter­point to anti- im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment, their pro­po­nents say. De­spite the at- times hos­tile con­text, Eat Off­beat has found suc­cess through its tan­ta­lis- ing tastes and hard work, said co- founder Wis­sam Kahi.

It has re­ceived more than 1,200 or­ders since a soft launch in Novem­ber. A smart­phone app to take or­ders is in the works and ex­pand­ing to other cities is a pos­si­bil­ity, he said.

Across the coun­try at the Spice Kitchen In­cu­ba­tor in Salt Lake City, Utah, refugees from So­ma­lia and Iraq are also learn­ing the food busi­ness.

Among them is Nour, who moved to the United States less than a year ago to es­cape the civil war in Syria and has as­ton­ished or­gan­is­ers with his tal­ents. He, like Rachana, asked to be named by his first name only to pro­tect fam­ily mem­bers.

“His food is ex­cep­tional,” said Grace Hen­ley, who man­ages the Spice Kitchen pro­gramme for the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee, a hu­man­i­tar­ian aid or­gan­i­sa­tion. The IRC runs Spice Kitchen and of­fers help to Eat Off­beat, which is pri­vate.

At Spice Kitchen, Nour has dubbed one dish “East meets West”, fus­ing rice, chicken and beef with Syr­ian spices and TexMex flavours to re­flect his move to the Amer­i­can West from Da­m­as­cus.

“All this food di­ver­sity in our com­mu­nity makes it a more in­ter­est­ing place to live,” Hen­ley said. “It makes it a more de­li­cious place to live.” – Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.