• Mohamed, Mohamed Saleh and Jordan Piaget serve up a Soudenese-Brittany menu at l'Ambassade de Bretagne. (Refugee Food Festival / Instagram.)
The initiative that sees refugee chefs taking over the kitchens of participating restaurants has expanded across six countries.
Chloe Sargeant

19 Jun 2017 - 2:57 PM  UPDATED 19 Jun 2017 - 3:07 PM

In 2016, the Refugee Food Festival happened in France, in both Lyon and Strasbourg.

The two events, organised by not-for-profit Food Sweet Food and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), were enormous successes. 

The concept is simple - a refugee chef takes over a kitchen of a participating venue, and works together with the restaurant's head chef to serve up a range of delicious courses from their home town or country. 

In 2016, 1000 people attended the first event in Lyon, where 11 restaurants in France participated and refugee chefs from India, Iran, Ivory Coast, Russia, Sri Lanka and Syria were featured.

Each of the cooks were professional chefs in their home countries, so cooking, food and dining were often the participants' preferred paths of integration and community bonding.

Director of UNHCR’s Europe Bureau Vincent Cochetel describes the festival as a community cultural experience based on the 'simple joy' of preparing a meal and enjoying good food: "It helps to generate awareness about refugees and creates opportunities for refugee chefs, promoting their talents and integration."

Food Sweet Food co-founder Louis Martin told UNHCR, “The festival also seeks to give them a head start and make their access to employment easier."

This year, due to 2016's overwhelming success, the Refugee Food Festival is dramatically expanding. The festival has become an international affair - 84 different restaurants are taking part, in 13 different cities, across six different European countries.

As part of the events marking World Refugee Day on June 20, legs of the festival will occur in Paris, Brussels, Madrid, Athens, Amsterdam, Florence, Rome, Milan, Bari, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon and Lille.

The festival was opened on June 15th by Mohammad Elkhaldy, a Syrian refugee and former chef and restaurateur from Damascus.

Elkhaldy took over the kitchen of upmarket French restaurant Substrat Restaurant in Lyon, and prepared a luxurious six-course Damascan meal with the help of Substrat's head chef, Hubert Vergoin. The menu included quail, duck hearts, veal, spicy vegetables, baklava and Damascus-style ice cream.

Since Elkhaldy's highly-applauded contribution to last year's Refugee Food Festival, he has catered several high-profile events, including a Paris Fashion Week show for major French fashion house Kenzo, and a Paris City Hall reception attended by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.

The Refugee Food Festival runs from Jun to 30 - dates differ depending on the city.

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