Why Global Restaurants Are Welcoming Refugee Chefs Into Their Kitchens This Month
From Paris to Cape Town to New York City, gourmet establishments across 15 international cities will open their doors to chefs from conflict-torn countries as part of the annual Refugee Food Festival.
Every year, June 20 marks World Refugee Day, a special observance designated by the United Nations to promote awareness of the global refugee crisis and commemorate the perseverance of the millions who have been forced to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters. (According to the United Nations, approximately 20 people per minute “leave everything behind” to flee war, persecution, or terror in their homelands.)
Since 2016, the annual Refugee Food Festival has recognized this June occasion by inviting restaurants worldwide to participate in its initiative, which encourages establishments to host dedicated dinners during which refugee chefs serve traditional meals from their home countries.
Founded by the Paris-based charity Food Sweet Food with the support of the U.N. Agency for Refugees, the international festival—which is now in its fourth edition—has reached 15 global cities since its Paris inception. In 2019, the Refugee Food Festival comes to London (for the first time), as well as New York City, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Madrid, Brussels, Geneva, Bologna, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Rennes, Strasbourg, and the French capital from June 13 to 23. (Dinner events in each city are scheduled for select nights within this 10-day period; they do not take place on every night of the festival.)
In addition to providing displaced chefs with the space to use skills and prepare meals for restaurant-goers in their adopted home cities, the pop-up-esque dinners also give local residents the opportunity to sample the traditional recipes these chefs brought with them from their home countries. In Copenhagen, for example, former Noma chef Beau Clugston will invite Syrian chef Zaki Abarra to take over the menu at ILUKA on June 20; in London, chef Ahmed Osman will prepare traditional Egyptian cuisine at Breddos Tacos (the Clerkenwell location) on June 21; and Afghan chef Bashir will prepare a cultural feast at New York City’s Lalito on June 23. (To see the schedule and make restaurant reservations, visit the Refugee Food Festival’s website.)
The goal of the dinner events, according to Food Sweet Food founders Marine Mandrila and Louis Martin, is to gather people around the dinner table to “share unifying moments” and build cultural connections over food. The project also aims to help foster the professional integration of refugees in new countries—an effort that seems to have been successful so far. According to the festival’s social impact report, more than half of the chefs who’ve participated in the Refugee Food Festival have gained access to at least one professional opportunity in the restaurant business after bringing their culinary creations to the table.