Rahaf Alakbani and Cara Benjamin-Pace on how a Syrian “Newcomer Kitchen” was saved from being shut down thanks to a crowdfunding campaign.
By NICHOLAS KEUNG — Immigration Reporter — Mon., Dec. 18, 2017
“There is so much potential to grow. Catering and cooking and workshop requests pour in. However, without core funding to support the administrative and management and logistical support, the program can’t survive,”
Mariam Alaurm gingerly slices the cucumbers on a mandoline for a salad as other Syrian women cut eggplants and roll meatballs for the ready-to-go meals their young enterprise is selling.
Between stirring sauces in pans and mixing the Sfouf — a light semolina cake with anise, vanilla, coconut, black sesame seeds and pistachio — they catch up with one another about their new lives, English classes, kids in school and news from back home.
For almost two years, the Newcomer Kitchen, housed in the Depanneur, a culinary incubator on College St., has been the weekly gathering place for Syrian newcomer women, where they share stories and experiences, as well as joy and tears — all while using their cooking skills to make food for catering and meals for the public.
First Up: HOLIDAY HOURS
The Dep will be CLOSED from December 17 – January 18
BRUNCH will be OPEN every SAT & SUN throughout the holidays,
except for Sunday, Dec 24.
Stay tuned for an exciting New Year’s Day Brunch announcement!
Up Next: 2018 Schedule
Some changes to our scheduled activities
It’ll take a while before the whole website is updated with the new information – I’ll be working on that over the break.
Our Workshops have become very popular, selling out quite often; as a result, we have been offering additional classes on subsequent dates. We’ve put some of these on Sunday nights, and that has proven to be a convenient time for many people. To make it as easy as possible for our instructors, it’s best if we can run classes on back-to-back dates, so I’m going to start scheduling workshop for Sunday nights, and if there is overflow, we can carry over the classes on to Monday nights as well.
We’re also going to be increasing the prices of our Workshops from $50 to $60. I’ve done a bit of research and many of our workshops we offer are less than half the price of equivalent classes in other locations around the city! Ironically, I believe The Dep also pays our instructors more than anywhere else: 60% of the ticket price! But like everyone else, we need to keep up with rising food costs, rent, etc. The increase will be split between instructors and The Dep, so that they will all take home a bit more from each class, and still be a great value for participants.
Note: I will send out a special discount coupon to anyone purchasing a Gift Certificate in December 2017 for $10 off any workshop in 2018 so that their Certificates can still be redeemed for a full workshop ticket.
1st TUESDAYs | Table Talks 6–9pm
Our popular speaker series with dinners by Dep founder Len Senater will continue on the 1st Tuesday of each month.
WEDNESDAYS | Newcomer Kitchen 6–7pm
Newcomer Kitchen will resume — hopefully, pending successful fundraising in December — in late Jan, but will be now be on Wednesdays instead of Thursdays.
THURSDAYS | Drop-In Dinners 6-9pm
The Dep’s popular Drop-In Dinner series will move to Thursday nights. Come check out a different guest chef each week.
FRIDAYS | Private Events 6-11pm
Many people host their own private parties at The Dep, so we’re dedicating Friday nights specifically for this.
SATURDAYS | Supper Club 7:30-10:30pm
Our fabulous family-style dinner parties will continue on Saturday nights
SATURDAY & SUNDAYS | Brunch — 10am–2:30pm
We’re stoked to have Mazeh, a great new Middle Eastern-inspired brunch, on the go every Sat & Sun.
Monday was an exciting milestone for Newcomer Kitchen, as we offered samples of traditional Syrian dishes to more than 600 attendees of the Terroir Hospitality Symposium at the AGO, one of the most prestigious food conferences in North America. It was an incredible reminder of just how far we have come in barely over a year — from no kitchens at all, to serving food alongside many of the best chefs in Canada. Thank you to everyone at Terroir for the invitation, and to all of our supporters who made this possible.
Leah Rosenthal, Advancement Officer | Hamilton | February 21, 2017 | DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University
Imagine packing up only what you can carry. Imagine fleeing a war-torn country and landing as a refugee in Canada.
Now picture a kitchen. The different smells, the cacophony of sounds. There is laughter, there is sharing, there community in this kitchen. There is healing.
Newcomer Kitchen invites Syrian refugee women to cook a weekly meal and socialize. The meals are then sold, and the proceeds shared among the cooks. Currently there are 59 women enrolled in the program.
The initiative, which began at The Depannuer in Toronto, is working to create a model that can be replicated with any newcomer group, in any restaurant, in any city in the world. What began as a safe space for women to cook and prepare meals for their families – many of whom were living in hotel rooms without access to a full kitchen – has now transitioned into a way for those women to make money.
Newcomer Kitchen has already been covered by Time and the Huffington Post, and the relatively new start-up had the pleasure of hosting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he broke bread with several Syrian newcomers on the first anniversary of their arrival in Canada. With a second Toronto location opening in May 2017, Newcomer Kitchen has big hopes for what it can accomplish in the near future.
Mahita Gajanan | Feb 14, 2017 | TIME Magazine
“We want to celebrate that they hold the ancient knowledge of one of the oldest cuisines in the world,” co-founder Cara Benjamin-Pace said. “Our goal is not to train these women into line workers in the food industry. Our goal is to bring them together and celebrate them as women and in the community.”
Dyana Aljizawi had spent three days cooking more than two dozen traditional Syrian dishes — rice pilaf, hummus, salad, baba ganoush, roast chicken legs and more — and she was exhausted.
It was a busy night for the 20-year-old refugee from Syria, who was the center of attention at a gathering of the Syria Supper Club, a group dedicated to welcoming refugees through meals.
Aljizawi is one of many refugee women from Syria who have connected with their new homes and earned money by cooking and sharing traditional food with neighbors in the U.S. and Canada. Through the Syria Supper Club, the women profit from making buffet-style dinners for the specific cause of pushing back against Islamophobia and xenophobia which they say was exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s election.
“I’m afraid to go outside because, with the current political climate and Trump, I’m afraid we’ll be sent home, back to a war zone,” Aljizawi, who now lives in New Jersey with her husband, said. “The U.S. is very nice, it’s very beautiful, but we’ve gone through a lot of pain here.”
by Alex Mlynek | January
Newcomer Kitchen gives Syrian refugee women an opportunity to share their food culture with Canada.
Len Senater heard that many Syrian refugees who came to Canada were living in hotels and had no kitchens to make their own food. He did have a kitchen and wanted to provide a space where Syrian refugee women could cook.
Between sips of tea in glasses, some enhanced by fresh mint leaves, roughly a dozen Syrian refugee women prepare malfouf: cabbage rolls stuffed with halal ground beef, rice, spices and a few dashes of pomegranate molasses. These refugees, many of whom have been in Canada only a few months, spend the day cooking together in a Toronto storefront for 50 people who have preordered their meals. Between stirring steaming pots and searching for tender cabbage leaves, they show each other photos of family members on their smartphones, tell stories and debate the best way to make their dishes. It all takes place at the Newcomer Kitchen, a weekly event where up to a dozen Syrian women gather together to cook meals from home.
Last spring, Len Senater, owner of the Depanneur, a space that hosts pop-up food events in Toronto’s West End, heard that many Syrian refugees who came to Canada were living in hotels and had no kitchens to make their own food. He did have a kitchen and wanted to provide a space where Syrian refugee women could cook. Although he didn’t speak Arabic or have any connections with the community, he did have a group of volunteers who wanted to help. One of them connected him with Rahaf Alakbani, 25, and her husband Esmaeel Abofakher, 29, who had come to Canada as refugees from Syria in February. The couple then found a group of women who wanted to cook, and brought them to the Depanneur.
“There was a language barrier and a culture barrier,” says Senater, “but Cara [Benjamin-Pace, the Newcomer Kitchen’s executive director] and I bought a bunch of random ingredients, and when the women arrived, we said: ‘Why don’t you just cook something?’ They were like, ‘Really? You want us to do the cooking?’” After he answered “yes,” they took over the kitchen.
Thursday, Dec. 22 | Gladstone Hotel
The Syrian women of Newcomer Kitchen invite you to celebrate their remarkable accomplishments of this extraordinary year.
In only a few short months, Newcomer Kitchen has invited over 55 Syrian newcomer women to collaborate with local restaurants to create transformative social and economic opportunities. Despite growing momentum and demand, the absence of dedicated funding keeps the future of the project precariously uncertain.
To truly realize the profound impact of this idea — a model that can help unlock the potential of any community, in any kitchen, in any city — Newcomer Kitchen needs the support of courageous and visionary people like you.
Please join us at Sofra Dayma, on Thursday, December 22, at the beautiful Gladstone Hotel for a truly unforgettable dining experience — a sumptuous banquet of traditional Syrian cuisine — with some very special guests and a unique auction of private, in-home catered dinners prepared by some of our most talented cooks.
Cedar Cocktail Reception
Melody Bar | 5–7 PM | $100
Includes a welcome aperitif, traditional Syrian hors d’oeuvres, with performances by Syrian and local musicians, and special guests
North Ballroom | 7–9:30 PM | $300
A sumptuous banquet of traditional Syrian cooking, with special entertainment and a unique auction
Cedar Cocktail Reception + Pomegranate Dinner
5–9:30 PM | $350
Share the Experience
Table of 6 | 7–9:30 PM | $1750
Cedar Cocktail Reception + Pomegranate Dinner
Table of 6 | 5–9:30 PM | $2000
Donate in Honour of Sofra Dayma
If you are unable to attend, and would like to make a donation in support of Newcomer Kitchen, please select “Donation” ticket type.
To purchase packages, or for more details please contact
Serra Erdem at email@example.com or 416.920.7995
Monday, Dec. 12, 2016
When Canada pledged to take 25,000 refugees fleeing war in the Middle East, one restaurateur in Toronto opened his doors, giving a group of Syrian women the opportunity to cook for the community, spread the wealth of their home country’s cuisines – and find new purpose in a strange city.
Published on Dec 11, 2016
A year ago the first group of Syrian refugees was welcomed into Canada and given 12 months of federal financial assistance.