Cooking Up Opportunities for Refugee Women — City Lab


Cooking Up Opportunities for Refugee Women

Through cuisine, Toronto’s Newcomer Kitchen fosters economic and social relationships for Syrian immigrants.

LISA FERGUSON @LisaFergieTO Sep 1, 2016

Practiced hands press layers of finely shredded phyllo pastry into baking sheets. Others follow with spoonfuls of ricotta cheese. Once baked, the knafeh Nabulsia will be drenched in orange blossom syrup and sprinkled with pistachio. “It’s always good to know how to cook something traditional,” says Majda Khalil, one of the bakers and a Syrian refugee. “It reminds you of home.”

The dessert prepped, six women crowd around a map, showing each other where home was before war ravaged Syria.

Len Senater is used to inviting strangers into his kitchen. It’s the business model of The Depanneur, Senater’s eatery and community hub housed in an old convenience store just west of Toronto’s downtown. For five years he’s been inviting strangers to come, make their favorite food, and sell it to the community.


Newcomer Kitchen at The Depanneur — Edible Toronto


Newcomer Kitchen at The Depanneur

Building Community for Syrian Refugees

I walked into The Depanneur on an uncharacteristically balmy day in early June. Maybe it was because spring weather had been sparse this year, but the sunshine and the heat of the afternoon permeated in a visceral manner. It signaled a season of renewal. People were smiling at one another while passing by on the street. Toronto had emerged from its winter shell, physically and emotionally.

The sunlight careened through the broad northwest-facing windows of the community kitchen-cum-restaurant-cum-social hub. The warmth inside was not just a product of the heat. The atmosphere at The Depanneur that Thursday afternoon was incubative.

At the periphery of the gathered group were young children dancing on tables, holding their fathers’ hands for support, while others were doing arts and crafts or napping in their strollers. A documentary film crew circled the perimeter, discussing shot angles in hushed tones. Several apron-clad women with nametags casually but methodically delegated tasks, balancing between clear directives and spur-of-the-moment decisions.


TABLE TALK: Carlos and Sandra Flores

It’s somewhat fitting Carlos and Sandra Flores are the first to share a table with a handful of guests for our inaugural Table Talk. After all, it was only two years prior when Carlos strolled into our Brunch with his first-ever batch of his ‘insane’ hot sauce. Carlos says he brought his ‘insane’ sauce with him that day because someone had asked to try it — they loved it — and since then, he and Sandra have continued to hand produce, package, distribute and market what has now become No.7 HotSauce for the very same reason they started, someone had asked to try it. Continue reading

Broken Pencil on Indie Food

broken pencil article cover

Broken Pencil

“Indie food can be expensive and exclusionary. And it often lacks the community infrastructure that is so crucial to subcultures. / Senater is working hard to change that. The Depanneur is unafraid to be ridiculous and ambitious and affordable and accessible.” Ryan Bigge

Full Article

Healthy Local Food and Alex Mazer

Len Alex Mazer

“FoodShare and other Ward 18 food leaders such as Community Food Centres Canada, the Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market, and The Depanneur have shown the exciting potential of good, healthy food, urban agriculture, and food entrepreneurship. It is a way to improve the health and sustainability of our ward, to encourage new local jobs and economic activity and to bring our community together.” — Alex Mazer, Ward 18 Candidate for Toronto City Council 2014

Video: Alex outlines why Ward 18 Matters and mentions the Dep