If you need visible evidence on how food can transform the lives of refugees and asylum seekers around the world, turn your eyes to any one of the 130 restaurant kitchens located across 15 international cities where the Refugee Food Festival is currently in full swing.
The festival, which centres around World Refugee Day (today, June 20) and runs until Sunday, June 30, is as much a celebration as it is a loud acknowledgement of the invaluable contribution that refugees make to the hospitality industry throughout the world.
The concept of the festival is simple – restaurants owners across the nine participating countries welcome refugee cooks into their kitchens to share their love of food by creating one or many dishes from their country of origin.
“The idea behind these events is always the same: to create collaborations between refugee chefs and restaurants for special menus, allowing people to discover the talents of refugee chefs."
Diners visit the restaurants involved for a night of delicious food and, in the process, taste a host of authentic dishes from the countries where the refugee cooks have originated. In return, refugee cooks receive the training and support they need to carry out a full restaurant service.
The end result is that the festival unites diners, refugees and chefs unite around one common element – food – and bridge traditional cultural boundaries.
“The idea behind these events is always the same: to create collaborations between refugee chefs and restaurants for special menus, allowing people to discover the talents of refugee chefs,” the Refugee Food Festival Facebook page reads.
2019 marks Copenhagen’s first year of involvement, with the city offering a tasty line-up of Syrian, Thai and Moroccan flavours.
Over in Marseille, France, events will be held at nine restaurants for locals to discover the tastes of Afghan, Sudanese and Ethiopian cuisine.
Other restaurants participating this year include Bologna, Bordeaux, Brussels, Cape Town, Geneva, Lille, London, Lyon, Madrid, New York, Paris, Rennes and Strasbourg are involved.
Founders of the Refugee Food Festival, Louis Martin and Marine Mandrila, say the event has expanded every year since because of the incredible ability of food to smash refugee stereotypes.
“After a trip around the world of the homestay meal we realised that cooking is an incredibly powerful and universal way of communication that federates and connects cultures to each other,” the founders say online.
“In the midst of the ‘migrant crisis’, we wanted to engage the values of cooking and the French culinary scene, in order to counter misery and anxiety about refugees and to raise citizens' awareness.
“By entrusting restaurant kitchens to refugee chefs, to prove their talents, we offer them a stepping stone into the job market and introduce them to culinary cultures from elsewhere.”
According to a social impact report, produced by Food Sweet Food and UNHCR in 2018, over 90 per cent of people involved thought the festival reassured them about refugee cooks. The festival was seen as an event that allowed them to regain self-confidence.
Almost 60 per cent of cooks had access to at least one professional opportunity through the festival and 70 per cent of participants said they believed the festival made a positive change to the way they viewed refugees.
To-date the festival hasn't reached Australia, but here's hoping more events like this can spark interest across the globe.