Refugee chefs take over Irish restaurant kitchens

Sharing of skills and knowledge through hospitality at the heart of first Irish Refugee Food Festival which begins today

If you drop into Eastern Seaboard, Jeni Glasgow and Reuven Diaz's buzzy neighbourhood restaurant in Drogheda this evening, you will find a sold-out dinner party celebrating world food. It is being cooked with the help of two chefs and a baker from Zimbabwe who are currently living in the Mosney direct provision centre.

The event is part of the first Irish Refugee Food Festival, which kicks off today and is inspired by the series of similar international festivals that took place last year. These saw 84 restaurants in 12 European cities welcome refugee chefs and bakers from 25 countries for a series of pop-ups, takeovers and collaborations.

This year, Ireland has joined the party, with 17 restaurants and food businesses backing the initiative. A series of events and collaborations are planned that will culminate in a welcome dinner for 270 refugees and asylum-seekers on June 20th, World Refugee Day, in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

On the same date, Galway chef Jess Murphy will cook with residents of the Kinsale Road direct provision centre in Cork, which was one of the first to introduce self-catering for residents. The group plan to present a menu reflective of their countries of origin, which will be shared with all of the residents of the centre.

At Eastern Seaboard, tonight's dinner for 110 guests is dedicated to "promoting inclusion, expanding community and developing opportunities". Chef proprietor Reuven Diaz is being joined in the kitchen by husband and wife Ezechiel Moyo and Cynthia Dube, and baker Samantha Tadyanemhandu.

The menu will include “food and flavours from the Middle East, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Angola”. Diaz’s father worked for the UN, and the family moved to a different country every four years, which is reflected in the wide variety of influences in his cooking.

The Irish Refugee Food Festival is being organised by the UNHCR Ireland, the UN refugee agency, with support from Kai restaurant in Galway, St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, and Lisa Regan Public Relations.

“Despite the difficult and tragic circumstances in which people flee, we should not forget that refugees bring skills and talents to their new homes,” said Enda O’Neill, Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland. “With their right to work set to be introduced for asylum-seekers, the Refugee Food Festival aims to connect people with employers that are eager for their experience and know-how.”

The Refugee Food Festival movement was started in France in 2016 by Marine Mandrila and Louis Martin, and in March of this year it opened a crowdfunded professional kitchen and restaurant in Paris, La Résidence, for the training and advancement of refugee chefs.

According to UNHCR, last year’s European festivals were a resounding success, at which “more than 10,000 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”.

“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,” Lisa Regan said.

Irish food businesses are backing the project in a variety of ways. In addition to the pop-ups open to the public, some are welcoming refugee chefs into their kitchens and production facilities for work experience, in the hope of opening up access to employment.

At Heron & Grey, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Blackrock, owners Damien Grey and Andrew Heron will turn their kitchen over to three Syrian chefs for a private pop-up dinner, at which the guests will be chefs and restaurant owners. The chefs will cook their own food, and the aim is that they will make useful contacts within the industry.

Jess Murphy has been joined in the kitchen at Kai in Galway this week by Binta Sow from Guinea. “I like cooking because it reminds me of home. Every time I am cooking with my country’s ingredients, it makes me happy,” she said. She came to Ireland on her own, when she was 17, and spent five and a half years waiting to get refugee status. She has been working with the community project, Sligo Global Kitchen.

Holly Dalton, head chef at 3fe in Dublin, was joined in her kitchen by fellow chef Karma Lama from Tibet, who has been an asylum seeker since 2006. "Karma was excellent and we had a great time. He was really quick, has great English and is obviously very skilled, " she said.

The Irish restaurants and food business that have signed up to participate in the first Irish Refugee Food Festival are: Eastern Seaboard, Drogheda; Heron & Grey, Dublin; 3fe and Five Points, Dublin; Cloud Picker Coffee in The Science Gallery, Dublin; Seasons, Guinness Storehouse, 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. Businesses interested in getting involved should contact Lisa Regan by emailing lisa@lisareganpr.ie.

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