• A Parliament on King cooking course in action. (Parliament on King)Source: Parliament on King
Sydney's Parliament on King café has launched a program of cooking lessons, to remind people of the many skills that new arrivals have to offer the Australian community.
By
Yasmin Noone

16 Oct 2019 - 12:06 PM  UPDATED 30 Oct 2019 - 10:46 AM

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about Iraqi or Burmese cuisine, it’s best to take culinary advice from a professional with expert catering skills and a lived experience of local food culture. So why not learn to cook from an Iraqi asylum seeker or Rohingya refugee?

Parliament on King, a Sydney-based social enterprise and catering company, is now running cooking classes led by fully trained asylum seeker and refugee chefs with a repertoire of recipes, derived from their country of origin.

Ravi Prasad, founder of Parliament on King in Newtown, tells SBS the classes aim to challenge prevailing negative stereotypes that suggest asylum seekers and refugees don’t give much back to Australian society.

“And yet, there is so much that we have to gain from having asylum seekers and refugees in our society, including food and cooking skills.”

By using food and cooking lessons as a way to break down cultural barriers and flip the narrative, it’s hoped that home cooks will leave the classes with an appreciation of what refugees can teach non-refugees and an understanding of how much asylum seekers have to offer everyone.

“There are so many compassionate people out there who are really happy for asylum seekers and refugees to join us in our community,” says Prasad. “But there are also so many people who still seem so terrified at the presence of people from different cultures [and life experiences] in Australia.

“And yet, there is so much that we have to gain from having asylum seekers and refugees in our society, including food and cooking skills.”

Prasad explains that he’s been working with asylum seekers and refugees through the café for around five years now. In that time, he’s observed that most of the new arrivals want to give back.

“I know that all they want to do is give and contribute to society. They’ve done that through the café and catering, and now they can also do that through the cooking lessons we are running.”

"But teaching a cooking class is a natural way for them to get their voice back, as they won’t be talking about their personal experience but instead, their food.”

Currently working at the café are two chefs, Viv from Iraq and Asma a Rohingya refugee who lead the private classes and teach business and social groups how to cook anything from a traditional Burmese pickled tea leaf noodle dish to Iraqi stuffed vine leaves.

However, Prasad says, any asylum seeker or a refugee from their catering arm who is interested in becoming a cooking class teacher can receive the training needed to lead a class, so they have the confidence to pass on their skills to wannabe cooks.

“When you’ve been through an experience [of war or are seeking asylum] it’s very disempowering,” Prasad explains. “To be able to find your voice again after going through something like that can be a tricky task. But teaching a cooking class is a natural way for them to get their voice back, as they won’t be talking about their personal experience but instead, their food.”

Sally, a refugee from Burma, is currently working in the Parliament on King café and being trained to soon run cooking classes. 

“I want to teach people everything about Burmese food so they are able to make it at home anytime they want,” Sally, who came to Australia two years ago, tells SBS. “If someone tries the food and feels that it has a good flavour and smiles, then that makes me happy.”

Sally says teaching the cooking classes will also help her to bond with members of the Sydney community.

“Cooking here is like cooking for family. So when we cook together [in a class], we will become family.

“There is no difference between us all – we are all just people. We all have feelings, thoughts and dreams. We all bring things to share with each other. I have something to give you – cooking skills and food. Hopefully, you might like what I have to offer.”

“What’s interesting is that for most of the people who have done a cooking class with us, it was the first time they have had the experience of getting to meet an asylum seeker or refugee in person."

Most cooking classes are held at the Newtown café, however, off-site lessons can be arranged upon request. The participating group is able to select the dish they want to learn to make prior to the class to ensure it meets their dietary needs and tastes.

Up and running for around six months, Parliament on King hosts anywhere from one to six groups a month.

So far, Prasad says, the cooking classes have been well received. “What’s interesting is that for most of the people who have done a cooking class with us, it was the first time they have had the experience of getting to meet an asylum seeker or refugee in person.

“After a class, people also get to take the cooking skills that they have learned on the day home with them. They will know how to cook the dish, what to buy to put into the dish and where to get the ingredients from. They’ll also leave having eaten a good meal.”  

To find out more information, visit Parliament on King online. 

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