Newcomer Kitchen – Communication Basics

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 5.24.37 PM

The outpouring of support for this project has been incredible and overwhelming! Our team is working hard to be able to do this again ASAP, and to keep everyone in the loop.

To start we have set up some basic online resources for those who want to stay up-to-date on this project, or who may want to support it further once we figure out our next steps.

There is now a Facebook Group you can join:

A mailing list where you can add your email:

Or you can follow it on Twitter or Instagram @newcomerkitchen

Direct inquires can be sent to

We will continue posting to the website, you can check in on updates here:

2022 Sabbatical Announcement

My nieces, Lucy & Grace, in front of The Depanneur, 2011 & 2021


Hello Dep Friends, Fans & Fam

Two Big Announcements

It is with tremendous pride that I want to let everyone know that The Depanneur Cookbook will be published nationally by Simon & Schuster in 2023, led by award-winning cookbook editor Kirsten Hanson.

Another major milestone: I will be not be renewing my lease at 1033 College at the end of the year; I will be taking a break in 2022 to focus my energies on envisioning and manifesting the next iteration of The Depanneur.

The Deets

As we approach the 1-year anniversary of the launch of The Depanneur Cookbook Kickstarter campaign, as well as the 11th anniversary of my arrival at 1033 College Street, we are all due for a bit of an update. Much has changed in that time, and there are plenty more changes in store.

First, a bit of a step back to 2019. The Depanneur was thriving in the groove it had spent the previous few years refining. I was running over 300 events a year: Supper Clubs, Drop-In Dinners, Cooking Classes, Table Talks plus the brunch residency, the rental kitchen and countless private events. As deeply rewarding as it all was, it was a LOT of work, and while I did have some part-time help, the nature of The Dep’s business model was such that it always seemed to be 3 people’s worth of work with 1.5 people’s worth of revenue.

The Dep’s commitment to accessibility and inclusivity meant that I strove to keep prices as affordable as possible, but 2019 also saw the negotiation of a new 3-year lease with a 60% increase, culminating in a rent that is 300% more than when I has started out in 2011. Needless to say the space did not get 3 times bigger, nor my prices 3 times higher!

Nonetheless I persevered. I had always meant The Dep to be small; its smallness was a factor of limited means, but also a means of lowering risk, removing barriers, keeping it accessible and affordable. It was also a philosophical stand against the go-big-or-go-home mentality of insatiable growth, an embodiment of a more modest, more sustainable vision of success, of an idea of “enough”. But smallness is not without its own costs. While I was content with the modest income and vibrant community that The Dep offered, I was getting tired, and could sense the ominous shadow of burnout lurking in the corners.

I spoke about this to my mentors and advisors, explaining that while I didn’t really need to make more money, I did need to figure out a way to work less. The advice I was given was: you might need to make more money if you want to work less. This inspired me to begin to explore a possible expansion, to figure out how I could scale what we did to a point where I could afford to hire full time staff, but still retain the intimate and personal qualities that were essential to The Dep experience.

I looked into a number of different spaces, and began several promising conversations around possible collaborations and partnerships. But as more and more ideas began to swirl around the potential of these new spaces, I began to feel overwhelmed. I could not conceive of, plan and build a whole new Depanneur while running the existing Depanneur – it was just too much. You can’t change the tires while the car is moving.

When I was 25, I took a year off after graduating from Dawson Institute of Photography in Montreal. I travelled around the world, and that trip remains among the greatest, most enlightening experiences of my lifetime, one that would deeply inform everything I would later do. I was turning 50 in 2020, and thought: perhaps it was time for another ‘quarterly report’, to check in and reset, a chance to reflect and make space for new things to take root. I decided that I would postpone the development of The Dep 2.0 and take a sabbatical; a bit of a well-earned rest, but also an opportunity to reflect on what I had been doing the last 10 or so years. I would take the time to think carefully about what I want to do next, and create the space to thoughtfully move towards bringing it to life.

I even learned a bit about the history and etymology of the sabbatical; the sabbath year (Shmita in Hebrew) literally means “release”. It stems from ancient Jewish wisdom: in the same way that Jews were commanded to take one day of each week to rest and reflect – the sabbath – the Torah also mandates that every seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle be a rest for the land, so that it might regenerate and remain fertile. The next official Shmita year was 2021-2022 (5782). It seemed that even Yahweh was on board with my plan.

It is said that the Lord works in mysterious ways, and at the beginning of 2020 the world entered the era of COVID-19. Suddenly there was no where to go, and whatever financial projections that had been undergirding my plans were now the realm of speculative fiction. In the first quarter of 2020 I cancelled and refunded more than $25,000 worth of tickets, and redirected the Dep’s energies into two Pick-Up Dinners per week.

Ironically, the Dep’s smallness, which had been its limiting factor and driver of the proposed expansion, became its saving grace. Had I doubled down on an expensive second lease and an ambitious new build-out, and then walked directly into COVID, the result would have been catastrophic. In the clarity of hindsight, I dodged a bullet, big-time. The Dep was small and resilient enough that I was able to sustain it as a more-or-less one man show throughout all of COVID, even extending to curate two successful Communal Picnics series in collaboration with The Bentway in the summers of 2020 & 2021.

The constraints of this new reality also pushed me to think about what actually was possible under the circumstances; how could I continue to support the amazing community of cooks and diners that are the heart of The Depanneur? From this emerged the idea to create The Depanneur Cookbook, showcasing 100 recipes and stories of 100 people who have cooked here over the last decade. I launched this ambitious project in November 2020 on Kickstarter and within a few weeks it had become the most-funded Canadian cookbook project ever listed on the platform.

I have been hard at work on it ever since, all while still running The Dep’s twice-weekly Pick Up Dinners, and more recently, rebooting our in-person Cooking Classes. Along with an amazing team — Ksenija Hotic, Buffy Childerhose, Raluca Cojocariu, Carole Nelson Brown, Katherine Gibson, Hillary McMahon, and others — we have compiled stories and recipes representing more than 80 nationalities and highlighting the spectacular diversity of culinary talent in Toronto.

We are very nearly done with the heart of the project, and are now focused on recipe testing and the last of the contributor interviews. Turns out compiling an anthology of 100 contributors is actually a LOT of work… whoda thunk? Meanwhile I am still in the process of telling the story of The Depanneur, its many trials and tribulations, lessons and rewards; I am nearly 40,000 words in (!), and there is still a fair bit to go. It is my goal to have the final manuscript submitted to the editors by the end of the year.

It is clear that there is no way this can all fit into a cookbook, nor can all of the incredible stories that have emerged from our conversations with the 100 contributing cooks. It is my hope to tap this rich vein over the course of the next year, through a combination of blogging and podcasting, to build anticipation for the release the book in 2023.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has made this project possible, and who have stuck by The Dep through the many challenges of the last 18+ months. I am very much looking forward to having the time and space to explore the ideas and experiences that will become the map of The Dep’s future journey. Though it is a little bittersweet to come to the end of this amazing chapter of The Depanneur, it makes the anticipation of what is to come all the more delicious.


“Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”
Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead


PS: If you currently have Depanneur gift certificates, I would encourage you to redeem them towards any of the Pick-Up Dinners or Cooking Classes we are offering between now and the end of 2021. Of course, any outstanding gift certificates will be honoured by the next iteration of The Depanneur, and can also be applied towards the purchase of an advance copy of The Depanneur Cookbook.


So. Many. Thanks.

First, a little confession…

In the final minute of the campaign, I sneaked on and tipped in the final $3 to get us to $60,000… I just had to see that odometer roll over…

Next up, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who supported the campaign!

With the help of 652 backers we hit an totally unprecedented, wildly unexpected $60,000, with over 680 books pre-ordered and nearly $3500 raised for Kiva microloans to women food entrepreneurs around the world.

In addition, many thanks are due to a whole slew of people who helped behind the scenes to make this possible:

Thanks to all the people who listened to, advised and mentored me in the lead up to launch: John Hanna, PJF, Kir Hanson, Lisa Kates, Hilary McMahon, Lucy Waverman, Amy Rosen, Joshna Maharaj, and other patient, indulgent souls.

Thanks to Ksenija Hotic & Buffy Childerhose for creative collaboration, Marisa Blankier for invaluable admin support, Yvonne Tsui for PR, and John Wojewoda for help with Facebook.

Thanks to the writers & journalists who have taken the time to shine the light of their talent on this: Karon Lui, Ivy Knight, Amy Carlberg, Emma Waverman & Gill Deacon, Carole Nelson Brown, Ola Mazzuca, Jen McNeely, and all of you who took the time to share this with their friends on social media.

First order of business: Dougie Kerr Posters & Prints

Now that I finally have access to backer’s contact info and pledge details, I am following up with everyone who ordered a Dougie Kerr Original Poster or Digital Print, and am doing my best to get them into your hands in time for Xmas.

Anyone who requested a Digital Print, all posters are available so everyone should be able to get the print of their choice, but letting me know which one you want will help me figure out how many of each to print. (The full list is available here.)

Prints can be picked up at The Depanneur (1033 College St.) today (TUE Dec 22) and tomorrow (WED Dec 23) between 4-7:30pm, or by appointment. I will reimburse shipping fees ($5) to everyone who picks up their poster in person. If you would like me to mail your poster to you, simply reply with your mailing address, and I’ll get that out ASAP.

The Takeaway

Karma isn’t really the right word, but having spent 10 years devoting myself to the community that The Depanneur has become, it is very validating and encouraging — on a level much bigger than just The Dep — that when the going gets tough, it all comes around. If people take away one thing from this whole project, I hope this is it.

Thanks again for your support, and looking forward to creating an amazing book for you all in 2021


COVID Update Mar 16

#DoingWhatWeCan #StillDoing

We recognize the importance of diligence, caution, and collective participation in helping minimize the spread of COVID-19. We are monitoring municipal, provincial and federal guidelines, and adhering to best practices for small gatherings.

The CDC and Provincial health officials have recommended avoiding/rescheduling gatherings of more than 50 people. The Dep classes are capped at 12 people, and 24 guests for Drop In Dinners and Supper Clubs. We’re also expanding our pickup/takeout options. We’ll continue to closely follow the situation and recommendations, and adjust accordingly.

COVID-19 is definitely turning things upside down for a lot people. To try and make things a bit easier, The Dep is doing what we can to help:

Drop-In Dinners now have online pre-ordering for pickup

You can now pre-order your Wed-night Drop-In Dinner online and it will be ready for you to pick up at your specified time.

Mama Linda’s Filipino Brunch now offers call-ahead for pickup

Maria Polotan is taking advance orders for brunch dishes packed up to go! Give her a call or text at 416-573-3108 and she’ll have your order ready for you when you arrive

Increased Social Distancing at Cooking Classes

We’ve re-organized our space for classes to have 3 separate tables of 4 people.

Supper Clubs now have a takeout option

If you have purchased a ticket to one of our upcoming Supper Clubs, we are happy to pack up your meal for pickup; just let us know us by email.

Revised Cancellation Policy

We have updated our cancellation policy to give people more options, make it easier for people who need to change plans on short notice.

Clean Hands & Open Hearts — A Dep COVID-19 Update

Dear friends, guests, and supporters,

While it is encouraging to see people continue to sign up for our upcoming events, it is also understandable that public health concerns may impact some people’s decisions in the coming weeks. In light of the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in, I wanted to take a moment to update everyone on what precautions and policies we are putting in place for the foreseeable future.

The Dep will continue to operate as usual, hosting our classes and events. We will double down on the cleaning and sanitizing protocols for our space, and will be switching to antimicrobial soap for our washrooms and hand wash stations. For Supper Club events, we will consider individual vs. family-style plating options where possible.

We are also going to make some temporary changes to our cancellation/refund policies. Anyone feeling unwell or under advisement to minimize non-essential public interactions, please contact us ASAP if you think you will not be able to attend an event to which you have purchased tickets.

As per our regular policy, we will do our best to find other takers for your tickets. Any released tickets that are picked up will be fully credited automatically.

As a temporary measure, if you are able to let us know >48 hrs prior to your event, we can offer a full credit or refund, regardless of whether the tickets are picked up or not.

For situations where we are notified with less than 48hrs notice, and where tickets go unused, we can offer a 50% credit or refund, as the chefs are likely to have already purchased/prepared ingredients based on the tickets sold.

Should it become necessary for us to cancel any event, we will, as per usual, issue full refunds to all ticket holders.

While we will be issuing refunds and credits as per this policy by default, should you like to consider your ticket purchase as a donation to help support The Dep through what is certain to be a challenging stretch, please let us know.

It is my hope that we can navigate the challenges and uncertainty of the current situation together, and continue to create and share interesting food things with our amazing community of supporters.

We will be following any Toronto Public Health advisories, and will do our best to keep everyone updated should the circumstances change.


The NK Story continues, with the support of a Federal IRCC Grant

Newcomer Kitchen Returns with “Willing to Work” Project in Three New Locations across Toronto and Mississauga

We are happy to announce that we are establishing innovative and exciting programming and accompanying events in Toronto East, Toronto West, and in Mississauga. We have enough funding to support three semesters (5 months each) for “earn while you learn” food entrepreneurship training.

Under the title of ‘Willing to Work Newcomer Kitchen,’ women gather in different Newcomer Kitchen locations at Mustard Seed, Greenest City, and Arbour Mill Pathway for active food entrepreneurship training, complete with both strategic planning and cooking sessions. With your support, we will bring to you a diversity of events ripe with social and economic opportunity for participants. These events will range from community dinners, workshops, holiday gift baskets, pop-ups, and more.

Newcomer Kitchen continues to be an engaging, dynamic, and living model, working to enhance the lives of newcomer women to Canada. We continue to work with and support women within our established Syrian community, and are pleased to announce that we have opened our doors and hearts to newcomer women from different countries of origin.

We believe it most fitting to pick up where we left off. The time has come for our pop-ups to resurface, with more diversity, partnership building, and occasion for celebration than ever before. We are confident you will be here to support our newcomer women as we continue forward into this next chapter.

We have three upcoming pop-up events, each distinctive in nature. All menus have been created and will be cooked by newcomer women. For more details on each individual event, menu, and pick-up location, you can click the links below.

TUE Nov 5Newcomer Kitchen Pop-Up Meal at The Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga (Entrance Hall) , 5:30-7pm

TUE Nov 5Newcomer Kitchen Pop-up Meal at The Theatre Centre Cafe/Bar, 5:30-6:30pm

THU Nov 7Newcomer Kitchen Pop-up Meal at The Mustard Seed, 5-7pm

To everyone who has supported us thus far, and whose support will carry us into this new and exciting chapter, thank you.

Everyone at Newcomer Kitchen

A chapter ends, another begins

A chapter ends, another begins

Newcomer Kitchen’s Weekly Pop-Ups are taking a breather.

For nearly 3 years, The Depanneur and Newcomer Kitchen have worked together to bring a simple idea to life: that by opening our kitchens to newcomers, we can create unique social and economic opportunities. What started as small gesture of hospitality blossomed into an innovative new model of facilitated entrepreneurship that has worked with more than 80 Syrian families, and paid out over $150,000 directly to these amazing women. A combination of luck, hard work and incredible community support has seen the seed of this idea flourish beyond anything we might have hoped.

In this time we have accomplished so many amazing things: over 10,000 meals served, a pop-up brunch, a luxurious gala, community dinners, corporate workshops, restaurant takeovers, cooking classes, teaching in schools, participating in the Luminato Festival, Terroir Symposium, Hot Docs, a national ad campaign, and more, and more still. The food prepared by these remarkable women has been served to everyone from our neighbours to the Mayor to the Prime Minister, to CEOs, philanthropists, dignitaries and scholars. The project has been covered by the local, national and international press; there is even a feature-length documentary of it all, sitting awaiting funds for editing. Even more exciting plans lay on the horizon: a social-enterprise catering company, team-building workshops, new collaborations national and international — but these take time and energy to realize.

Since its inception, Newcomer Kitchen has grown exponentially in scope, impact and complexity. But beyond our own grassroots support, our modest fundraising capacity and the help of a few key corporate sponsors, we have — for a slew of complex reasons — not yet received the kind of core funding needed to sustain the current program. Newcomer Kitchen has generated dignified and equitable income for its participants, and managed to just cover its expenses, but it does not earn nearly enough to support the enormous administrative effort needed to run it as an organization. This may be in part because we have been so busy actually doing things, so compelled and constrained by financial precarity, that we have not had the capacity to do the big-picture strategic work needed to evolve.
To fix this — to turn what started as a small, spontaneous act of welcome into a sustainable organization that can take this powerful, innovative idea out into the world — we need to regroup and refocus on the bigger picture. To do this, we need time, space and energy (and, of course, funding!).

The time has come for the weekly pop-ups at The Depanneur — over 120 to date — to take a rest, and for us to redirect that time and energy towards mapping out a broader plan for the future. How can we bring this idea to more newcomers, in more communities? How do we measure the profound impact this project has had, and how do we package up what we have learned so that others might benefit from it? The work to answer these questions requires a stable source of funding, and this is what we hope to focus on in the coming months.

Newcomer Kitchen continues to be an exciting, living prototype, a proof of concept that has been an incredible success by any measure. I know that it has touched the hearts of thousands of people, enriched the lives of an amazing group of newcomer women, and set a global example for what is possible. We will continue to work with and support the women of our Syrian community through our fledgling corporate catering and workshop programs, and we hope to make them a cornerstone of our future projects.

Newcomer Kitchen has taken on a life of its own, one that needs to be nourished so that it can truly flourish and realize its potential. It has afforded us 3 amazing years and countless unforgettable experiences. But even as a caterpillar has to stop eating to become a butterfly, so we too need to pause for a moment to begin the transformation to the next phase of our beautiful little experiment in kindness and hospitality.

To everyone who has helped us for so long and so far, and whose support will carry us into the future, thank you from the bottom of our hearts,
Everyone at Newcomer Kitchen

PS – We will continue to post updates on our project and progress in the coming months, on our website, Facebook group, and social media pages. If you wish, you can also sign up for our email newsletter, or reach out to with specific inquiries.

Toronto Suddenly Has a New Craving: Syrian Food — The New York Times


Toronto Suddenly Has a New Craving: Syrian Food — The New York Times

By David Sax — JAN. 12, 2018

“Ms. Alakbani smiled at her little namesake and broke out in song (“always love songs, sexy songs”), clapping a syncopated beat, as others thwacked maamoul dough onto baking sheets from a mold. Soon the kitchen was a riot of singing, dancing and smells, as a potluck lunch of fresh hummus and baba ghanouj, vegetarian kibbe and spiced meat pies called shamborak filled the table for lunch.”

…No Syrian food businesses has felt the spotlight more acutely than Newcomer Kitchen, a nonprofit group of women who come together each Wednesday to cook a traditional Syrian meal in a small cafe and food business incubator called the Depanneur.

Newcomer Kitchen began in March 2016 as a way of giving newly arrived Syrian refugees who were temporarily living in airport hotels a chance to cook a meal. But it has grown into a collective of 60 cooks, who rotate in groups of eight to make 50 three-course takeout dinners each week, for $20 apiece.

The group has been the subject of dozens of news stories around the world, and a documentary film is in the works. A year ago, Mr. Trudeau visited with the press in tow, and his smiling face is proudly displayed around the kitchen.


How Syrian refugees are helping shape Canadian cuisine — CBC Radio Day 6

How Syrian refugees are helping shape Canadian cuisine

David Sax & Brent Bambury — Friday January 12, 2018

” That commitment to keep tradition and these flavours alive is what makes these places so much more important than just somewhere to get a good meal.”
– David Sax

Until recently, Syrian food was hard to come by in Toronto.

But that’s starting to change, thanks to the recent influx of more than 40,000 Syrian refugees to Canada — including around 11,000 in Toronto, where Syrian cuisine is beginning to take root.

The new ventures range from shiny new cafés to stalls at farmer’s markets to a collective of Syrian women sharing traditional recipes from home with the wider public.

This month, the New York Times is dedicating its Food section to Canadian cuisine — and one of their contributors is Day 6 food columnist David Sax, who wrote a feature on how Syrian newcomers are helping shape how we define “Canadian” cuisine.



Redeeming Depanneur Gift Certificates or Discount Coupons

Looking to buy Gift Certificates for The Depanneur? Click Here

Using Your Gift Certificate or Discount Coupon

You (or the Gift Certificate recipient, if you requested it be emailed directly to them) will receive an email with a coupon that looks like this:

Simply click on it, and the Gift Certificate should automatically be applied to your shopping cart when you head to the checkout.

Whoever placed the order will also receive an order confirmation with a link to a downloadable/printable Gift Certificate

The printable Gift Certificate looks like this; it’s not required, it’s just in case you want a physical certificate to give as a gift. You’ll need to write in the coupon code you received

You can also download one here if you need it.

Alternatively, you can apply the code by copying & pasting (or typing) it into the Coupon Code field of the shopping cart screen

Crowdfunding saves kitchen run by Syrian refugees — Toronto Star

Crowdfunding saves kitchen run by Syrian refugees

By Nicholas Keung — Immigration Reporter — Sat., Dec. 23, 2017

“It is so nice to see the flood of goodwill, generosity and support.”

Support and donations are pouring in to help a fledgling social enterprise for Syrian refugee women that was at risk of shuttering because of a lack of funding. The Newcomer Kitchen was in jeopardy of closing in January after it failed to secure funding from governments and charitable foundations to take the operation to the next level and make it sustainable. Staffed by Syrian refugee women and begun as a social program, the kitchen, housed weekly at the Depanneur restaurant on College St., offers catering and ready-to-go meals to the public with revenue split among the participants after deductions for ingredients and supplies.