The Refugee Food Festival returns with even more exceptional culinary collaborations: Les Inrocks


For its 7th edition, from June 7 to 26, the Refugee Food Festival will convene a brigade of refugee chefs from all over France. For the occasion we met Doha, a Lebanese-Syrian cook, whose pastries will be offered to Emma Duvéré. Something to delight your taste buds, we promise! Inform, raise awareness, fight against prejudices about refugees and gather around a table of a thousand and one flavors. This is the leitmotif of Refugee Food, an association that has been working since 2016 for the professional insertion of refugees in restaurants, the exchange of cultures, and that works daily with the most disadvantaged to offer healthy food and tasty With the support of the United Nations Refugee Agency and in collaboration with a multitude of associations, Refugee Food works tirelessly to offer people in exile the quality of life they deserve. On the occasion of the Refugee Food Festival, a dozen cities and nearly a hundred establishments will open their kitchens to refugee chefs for unique culinary collaborations. From starred restaurants to neighborhood canteens, since the creation of the festival more than 400 restaurants have been mobilized and have welcomed 312 refugee chefs from 56 different countries. A civic and essentially voluntary initiative that values ​​the talent of refugees from all over the world. © Mahka Eslami Lebanese-Syrian patisserie in Doha Meet Emma Duvéré, a beautiful artisan patisserie in the 11th arrondissement of Paris that proudly wears its Ecotable label. Here, seasonal, organic and local products give life to homemade sweets without added products. When Refugee Food approached Emma Duvéré, she thought the idea was great. Thus began the culinary collaboration of Emma and Doha Elkhaldy, a Lebanese-Syrian refugee cook. “Participating in such an important and great event as the Refugee Food Festival and getting to know Doha motivated me a lot. In this collaboration, it is especially Doha who brings her talent and I add my touch. I really like oriental flavors, I use them a lot myself. To be accompanied by someone like Doha, who knows this type of cooking and baking well, is great. We mix genres and cultures”, explains Emma with a wide smile. © Clémence Sahuc Arriving in France in 2017, Doha started as a caterer in her husband’s Syrian restaurant and followed an online pastry training course. A job that turned out to be obvious. “I realized that I am passionate about cooking, especially preparing, presenting and decorating my creations. I didn’t understand or speak French well, so cooking became a means of expression, a language I could use to communicate with others. I am Lebanese and Syrian, I got this cuisine from my husband but also from my family and especially from my mother. She is a very good cook. I mix my two origins and their two flavors to create my own dishes,” says Doha. A mother of four driven by the same passion, cooking has become a real family story. “My husband left to open a new restaurant in Cairo. So I live alone here with my children. I want to show my children that I can also work and be successful in my work”, he confides to us. Doha has been present since the beginning of the Refugee Food association and since then has participated in numerous events and cooking workshops. This year, she will join Emma from June 14-25 to offer two delicious cakes: a baklava of fruit puree and whipped cream, plus a semolina and coconut cake known as harissa. A collaboration that Doha also welcomes with enthusiasm: “Emma adds her French touch to my cakes, and working alongside her also allows me to discover her own cuisine.” Delights that promise an exceptional marriage of cultures and flavors. © Clémence Sahuc The origins of Refugee Food The idea of ​​the Refugee Food Festival germinated in the minds of Marine Mandrila and Louis Martin in 2015, after crossing 18 countries. A trip dedicated to sharing and discovering different culinary and cultural customs. “It was an alibi to provoke meetings. They received us with great simplicity and generosity,” says Marine. At the same time, millions of Syrians are fleeing their war-torn country. A situation that moves the two travelers, also marked by their family journeys in exile. “The treatment given to these migrants is quite dehumanizing and makes us forget that they are people like you and me. You have to realize that we could all be refugees one day”, says the co-founder. After committing and mobilizing on their own scale, Marine and Louis aspire to something bigger. The project quickly revolves around the kitchen: “Through the kitchen, we explain more than just food!”. Because the cuisine speaks to everyone, it is universal and the diasporas take it with them. Because cooking is also transmitting one’s own culture. “The festival tries to show another reality. These people did not choose to leave their homes on a boat with their wives and children, so they must be welcomed with dignity. They have many talents, skills and things to contribute to our society. Here is our genesis. That’s why we decided to set up this festival”. © Olivier Vogelsang A partnership on all fronts It is clear that Refugee Food invests considerably in the cause that is dear to them and is never limited to a single action. After the creation of the festival in Paris in 2016, the Refugee association does not stop. In 2018 they opened a food counter at Ground Control called La Résidence. Like an artist residency, refugee chefs regularly come to stand in for the chef to try out his menu before opening their own restaurant. Some have started with great success. A year later, Refugee Food launched Sesame, a free and adapted training course – with French lessons – and with the support of Pôle Emploi. Developed in Paris, the training has been rolled out in several French cities, in collaboration with training organizations such as Acto and Envergure, or collectives of restaurateurs such as Ecotable. “At the beginning of 2023, we will have trained almost 280 people as kitchen assistants. 75% of them found a job after completing the training. If we count temporary contracts, we are at 90%. Which is very good when we are talking about people away from work. Getting a job is key. Already in life but also in a host country to be valued, be independent, meet people and unlock access to housing”, explains Marine Mandrila. © Mahka Eslami Faced with the difficulties caused by the first confinement, Refugee Food has also launched food aid. “We started cooking with many other associations, such as Ernest, Yes We Camp, Les Grands Neighbors and Ecotable. We thought about these people who were going to starve, so we couldn’t stop cooking, says Marine. In a few weeks we set up a whole collective. We produced almost 1,000 meals a day that were distributed across Paris. We realized that we could serve quality and well-dressed meals, especially thanks to our chef, who himself benefited from food aid when he arrived in France, while food aid is rarely the case. Everyone has the right to fair, good, diversified and quality food”. Since then, Refugee Food has not stopped and now works with Chorba, Restau du Coeur and Paris City Hall to distribute “meals we want to eat ourselves” to asylum seekers in France. “It’s a public health problem, it’s not normal that people are still hungry and don’t have access to quality products and meals”, says the co-founder. Some principles that the association also tries to instill in children by taking part in secondary school classes. “This is a project that is part of our awareness mission. The question of borders and exile is part of the 4th year programme, it obviously depends on the establishments and the teachers, but as a whole the issue of migration, integration, integration, reception, goes beyond the framework of the Course. There is what is in the school program and the lessons, but there is also what the school can contribute to give light to the world, especially nowadays with the year that has just started. According to the World Bank, for climate reasons alone there will be 250 million refugees in the year 2050. So it’s not just something that should be covered in the 4th grade school curriculum”, says Marine.
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