Breaking bread and barriers in Sligo as global kitchen serves up taste of the world

Current and ex-residents of direct provision centre hope project will lead to more job opportunities

Communities in Sligo realised long ago that getting to know each other was always easier over a good meal.

And now some residents and former residents of the local direct provision centre, Globe House, are hoping that their increasingly famous culinary skills can be used to generate some income, as well as break down barriers.

With the help of a local chef Bríd Torrades, owner of Osta café in Sligo, the people behind Sligo Global Kitchen (SGK) have launched a new project, a supper club which they hope will in time be a commercial success leading to more employment opportunities.

It was launched at the weekend when 80 people enjoyed a sit down meal at the Model Arts Centre where those tucking-in included writer Kevin Barry, literary editor Olivia Smith, artists Nick Miller and Ronnie Hughes and Sligo county council CEO Ciarán Hayes .


The gathering also included many SGK regulars who since 2015 have attended monthly buffets in the centre and further afield where as well as a range of ethnic dishes, the menu invariably includes music and dance from their hosts’ countries.

With no empty plates, and people lingering well into the night to chat to the chefs from Cameroon, Zambia, Cuba, and Zimbabwe, the launch was deemed a success.

“It’s always nice to break bread with people,” said Barry who enjoyed his first experience of the SGK phenomenon.

Emer McGarry director of the centre explained that what started as a community project , designed partly to give those in direct provision a rare opportunity to cook their own food, may now translate into a commercial opportunity for some of them.

Meeting, talking and eating

“This has also been about them getting to know the community and seeing their own culture valued and respected,” she said.

The weekend was busy for the SGK participants. On Sunday they travelled to Moville, Co Donegal, which might seem an unlikely venue given last year's arson attack on a proposed asylum seekers' centre there. In fact, judging from the party atmosphere in the local community college, there was a very warm welcome from locals for strangers bearing such tasty gifts as Moroccan Mrozia (lamb with almond and pears), Syrian kabsi (rice and chicken) and Mbas Baleng (peanut stew) from Cameroon.

On May 19th the SGK chefs will be tasked with cooking for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. He will be in Sligo for the national famine commemoration, a day when too much focus on food might seem inappropriate, but his hosts are confident that meat eater or not , he'll be tempted by the various ethnic delicacies on offer.

In the meantime, Torrades will provide barista training and advice on all aspects of the business including marketing, hygiene and food presentation.

“I have learned 10 times more from them than they learn from me. There are so many cultures and so many different types of food to learn about” said Torrades.

“And this is a time when the industry is actually crying out for workers and they have a great work ethic,” she added.

Chairwoman of SGK Mabel Chah, from Cameroon, got her residency status after living in Globe House for three years and is now doing a degree course in business and office administration at IT Sligo.

She wants to open a pop up restaurant in Sligo and was delighted with the outing to Moville.

“It’s always good to meet and talk, and over food it is even better,” she said.

Sidonie Siewe Leunde, who is from Cameroon and lived at Globe House until she got her papers in 2016, agrees. “Cooking and sharing food brings people together. Food is my passion,” she explained.

Elvis Lyonga (27), also from Cameroon, came to Ireland on his own aged 17, and 10 years on has residency status and is studying event management at IT Sligo.

When the centre started to allow residents of Globe House to use its commercial kitchen - vacant following the departure of Conrad Gallagher - he jumped at the opportunity.

“We were trying to find ways to keep ourselves active . The hardest thing then was not being able to cook our own food,” he said.

Improved kitchen facilities in Globe House means that residents can now cook there , but they still relish the chance to cook for others and now many are hoping that they might be able to make a living from it.

Rosemary Chilufya from Zambia has been in Ireland since 2015 and is secretary of SGK.

“I would like to open a restaurant and do food but with an African touch”, she said.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland