• This is a previous Eat, Learn and Greet event featuring Sri Lankan and Indian food.
Eat, Learn and Greet is a unique cooking class hosted by refugees and asylum seekers.
Gina Flaxman

21 Jun 2016 - 1:47 PM  UPDATED 25 Jul 2016 - 11:38 AM

There's nothing better than spending an evening in the kitchen learning new recipes from cooks who are passionate about food. But an Eat, Learn and Greet night in July will be a cooking class with a difference. It will be presented by Iranian refugee Khatereh Rabei and her mother, Tooran Tarkemeh, who will cook dishes from their homeland and introduce 10 participants to their food and culture.

Hosted by House of Welcome, a non-profit organisation that aims to shelter and empower asylum seekers and refugees, in partnership with Flavours of Auburn, a social enterpise in western Sydney, the class aims to be fun and informative for both the participants and the hosts.

As Khatereh and her mother introduce the class to Persian herbs and spices such as dried mint, saffron and dried barberries (sour berries), and make a traditional meatball casserole, salad olivieh (Persian chicken, potato and egg salad), red lentils and rice, they chat with the class and exchange stories and cooking tips.

If you want to make your own salad olivieh, try our recipe here.


House of Welcome executive officer Paul Bottrill-Chau says while his organisation's primary focus is on housing and financial assistance, once people are more stable and established, the group runs programs that focus on empowerment and the cooking classes are part of that.

They are mostly run by women. As part of the classes they are given training in areas such as occupational health and safety and food handling. The classes are "an opportunity for them to share skills, generate an income and return their dignity".

Khatereh, who has been in Australia for four years, has run several cooking classes for House of Welcome. "When I teach, I'm learning and I'm really happy. It's a good experience," she says.

Khatereh in her cooking element.

Cultural exchange

Bottrill-Chau says the classes are an opportunity for both participants and hosts to learn from one another. "We really want a cultural exchange."

For participants, it's an opportunity to learn about often unfamiliar cultures and cuisines. They are invited to help with the food preparation, share a meal and a chat and are given the recipes at the end.

Khatereh says the classes have also been an opportunity for her to learn about Australian food and culture. She says she had never encountered vegetarians before coming to Australia, but she now enjoys cooking vegetarian meals and eating less meat.

Suma Pillai, House of Welcome community development coordinator, says the classes aim to "promote cross-cultural understanding and community harmony".

Community feeling

The concept of "community harmony" is particularly important in Auburn, one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse local government areas in Australia. Between 2007 and 2012, Auburn received the highest proportion of humanitarian entrants per capita of any council area in NSW.

In addition to co-hosting Eat, Learn and Greet, Flavours of Auburn is running three cooking classes during Refugee Week hosted by local chefs and community members featuring Pakistani, Ethiopian and Afghani cuisine.

"Food opens doors," says Bottrill-Chau. "It gets people communicating and breaks down cultural barriers."

Eat, Learn and Greet runs from 6pm-9pm on Monday 4 July at the Auburn Centre for Community. Tickets cost $50 (plus online booking fee). 


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