A food festival with a difference taking place next June will see restaurants and food businesses across Ireland open their doors to chefs and bakers with refugee status, or refugee applications under consideration, allowing them to showcase their skills and share their culinary heritage.
A series of international Refugee Food Festivals last year saw 84 restaurants in 12 European cities welcome refugee chefs from 25 countries for a series of pop-ups, takeovers and collaborations.
This year, Ireland will be joining the party, with 15 restaurants and food businesses signed up, and a series of events planned that will culminate in a welcome dinner for more than 200 refugees and asylum-seekers on June 20th, World Refugee Day, in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR Ireland), at last year's Refugee Food Festival "more than10,000 diners enjoyed food from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Cameroon, in surroundings ranging from smart dining rooms to bistros and take-aways".
In a similar initiative staged at Loam restaurant in Galway last October, chefs and restaurateurs Jess Murphy (Kai, Galway), Damien Grey (Heron & Grey) and Takashi Miyazaki (Miyazaki and ichigo ichie), staged The Far-Fetched Dinner, working on the fundraiser with Syrian chefs Mhd Ahyan Orabi and Ahmad Oreabi, while Syrian baker Amer Marai collaborated with pastry chef Louise Bannon.
"We are immigrants too, but we didn't have to seek refuge here to escape conflict. October 29th 2017 was a day that will mark the beginning of a time of change in Ireland," said Murphy, who is from New Zealand, while Grey and Miyazaki are originally from Australia and Japan.
Proceeds from the sell-out dinner, which was supported by suppliers to the restaurants, have funded three scholarships for refugees to participate in chef training at GMIT, starting in September.
Murphy, and public relations consultant Lisa Regan, have been working with UNHCR Ireland on Irish input into the international Refugee Food Festival 2018.
The Refugee Food Festival was started in France in 2016 by Marine Mandrila and Louis Martin, and in March of this year the movement opened a crowdfunded professional kitchen and restaurant in Paris, La Résidence, for the training and advancement of refugee chefs.
“The Irish version of the festival aims to change the way we think about refugees by highlighting the skills and talents they bring with them to their new homes,” Regan says.
The restaurants and food business that have signed up to participate are: Eastern Seaboard, Drogheda; Heron & Grey, Dublin; 3fe and Five Points, Dublin; Cloud Picker Coffee, Dublin; Bean and Goose, Ferns; Loam, Galway; Kai, Galway; Miyazaki, Cork; The Tannery, Dungarvan; Dela, Galway; Café Rua, Castlebar; Pudding Row, Easkey; Shell's, Sligo; Sheridan's Cheesemongers, Dublin and Galway; and FoodSpace operated restaurants and cafes, nationwide.
UNHCR Ireland is now looking for experienced chefs or bakers who would like to be part of the festival, and applications are being accepted until Friday, April 20th. Successful applicants will be paid by the hour, and “can request a reference, in recognition of their work”.
The application form is online at unhcr.org and should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Paper forms are also being distributed to Reception Centres and can be posted to UNHCR Ireland, 102, Pembroke Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.