An all-star lineup of women slaying in the kitchen is front and centre of the next #CookForSyria dinner event.
Jacqui Challinor, head chef at Nomad in Surry Hills, NSW will be joined by Julie Niland (Saint Peter, NSW), Claire Van Vuuren (Bloodwood, NSW), Emma McCaskill (Sparkke at The Whitmore,SA), Thi Li (Anchovy, VIC), Shannon Martinez (Smith & Daughters, VIC), Sharon and Carol Salloum (Almond Bar, NSW), Jaci Koludrovic (Icebergs Group, NSW), Isabelle Caulfield (Poly, NSW), Federica Andrisani (Fico Dining, TAS), Imogen Czulowski (Africola, SA), Palisa Anderson (Boon Luck Farm, NSW) and Sarah Knights (Automata, NSW) to create an exclusive menu at Nomad in Surry Hills to raise funds for UNICEF’s Syria Crisis Appeal.
The dinner will be hosted by UNICEF Australia’s Ambassador for Nutrition, Adam Liaw.
Sharon Salloum of Almond Bar says it's fitting that women are at the forefront of this prestigious charity dinner.
"In Middle Eastern culture it’s the women that cook and it's not unusual for females to all cook together," she says.
In the last three years, the #CookForSyria campaign has raised more than $1.5 million for UNICEF’s Syria Crisis Appeal to support children in Syria and the surrounding region with clean water, vaccinations, education and protection.
The right kind of awareness
Salloum, who still has family in Syria, is humbled by the outpouring of public support.
"It feels pretty fantastic. When we first started Almond Bar, people had no idea where Syria was and now they know for all the wrong reasons," she says.
"People forget about the aftermath and the effects of war, but #CookForSyria helps explain that there's still a lot of building and growth that needs to happen before the country is back to normal."
Sharon and her sister Carol opened Almond Bar in Darlinghurst, Sydney nearly nine years ago and love sharing their culture with curious diners.
"Syria is home to the oldest living inhabited city in the world – Damascus, and our food is pretty damn amazing,” she says. A lot of people aren’t aware that many traditional Middle Eastern dishes [originated] in Syria.
"In Aleppo, you'll find almost 20 different kinds of kibbeh … and pistachio in Arabic is fistor halabeh, which translates to 'nut of Aleppo.'"
Salloum is excited to see the growing interest in Middle Eastern food and how the other chefs will use Syrian ingredients.
Reimagining Silk Road cuisine
Palisa Anderson of Chat Thai says she’s excited about incorporating Syrian flavours into her traditionally Thai repertoire. Together with Isabelle Caulfield of Poly, she's creating small plates including hummus with a nahm prik, pao style smoked chilli, and Poly-inspired pickled mussels and octopus with olives.
“Good food is good food, and it’s the flavour that is the jumping-off point," Anderson says.
"Syrian food has so many cross-cultural references, and there are so many wonderful familiar flavours like chilli and coriander."
"So many of these flavours are very much embedded in Thai cooking; the commonality is that they were part of the Silk Road – so really this is as much about the journey of food through history as it is about connecting people through the sharing of food, which has been done since time immemorial.
"We’re all one really, and we all just have to help each other.”
Jacqui Challinor of Sydney's Nomad also has a personal connection to the charity dinner which Nomad will be hosting.
"My mum is Maltese [and] the country itself a blend between Italian and Arabic, so we use a lot of Middle Eastern spices. I grew up eating strong flavours and with that Middle Eastern way of sharing food and getting people together," she says.
Spices, such as cumin, ras el hanout and paprika are used liberally at Nomad to elevate dishes. A plate of cannellini bean hummus has extra punch thanks to the addition of aromatic cumin burnt butter.
Get involved at home
As well as the charity dinner, #CookForSyria has a community campaign encouraging the public to get involved by hosting their own charity dinner at home.
For those who want a starting point, Salloum says there are three essential ingredients in the Syrian pantry: tahini, Baharat and sumac.
"Tahini is a definite staple. You can use it in sweet and savoury dishes or to grease baking pans rather than use olive oil or butter," she says. "Baharat is a great savoury spice; it can be used as a dry rub, for a salad dressing or chuck some in when boiling rice, and sumac is good in dressings – you can sprinkle it on chicken as a bit of a tenderizer, and I love it on fish and seafood as well."
The idea behind the community campaign is to get everyone involved. UNICEF Australia fundraising and communications director, Jennifer Tierney says it’s a great opportunity to get creative.
"Host a bake sale at school, a dinner with your friends or an event in your community to show your support for children and their families who continue to be affected by the conflict in Syria and also to show support for the Syrian community in Australia.”
#CookForSyria charity dinner
12 August, Nomad, Surry Hills, New South Wales
#CookForSyria participating restaurants/cafes
August-September, various locations nationally
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