A project to make The Dep’s kitchen available to Syrian refugee families

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 info@newcomerkitchen.ca 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.

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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.

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LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW »

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.

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Syrian ‘Newcomer Kitchen’ saved thanks to crowdfunding | CTV News

Syrian ‘Newcomer Kitchen’ saved thanks to crowdfunding – CTV News

Rahaf Alakbani and Cara Benjamin-Pace on how a Syrian “Newcomer Kitchen” was saved from being shut down thanks to a crowdfunding campaign.

WATCH THE INTERVIEW »

Toronto kitchen staffed by Syrian refugee women at risk of closing — Toronto Star

 

Toronto kitchen staffed by Syrian refugee women at risk of closing

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.

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Newcomer Kitchen at Terroir Symposium 

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.

Newcomer Kitchen: How Syrian refugee women are cooking their way to success | DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University

Newcomer Kitchen: How Syrian refugee women are cooking their way to success

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.

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How Syrian Refugee Women Are Using Food to Fight President Trump | TIME

How Syrian Refugee Women Are Using Food to Fight President Trump

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.”

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A Taste of Home | Investors Group

A Taste of Home

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.

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