Before Hamed Allahyari fled his home in Iran, he owned a traditional restaurant in Tehran. When he began his new life in Melbourne, he visited more than 50 restaurants looking for a position as a chef.
The only job offer he received was as a dish hand – for $8 an hour.
At the time, Hamed also put up his hand to volunteer at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) twice a week, cooking for up to 250 people alongside other volunteers. After a couple of years, he was promoted to kitchen manager, and that led to running a catering company.
Last year Hamed won the Pick My Project grant to open Cafe Sunshine and SalamaTea, a Persian cafe and restaurant in Sunshine, Victoria, that employs nine refugees and asylum seekers.
"These people, they are like me – they want a place to start. We start to train them to give them enough confidence so they feel they are part of the community," says Hamed. "Maybe one day they can be like me and open their restaurant."
Hamed is one of three cooks gifting recipes to the ASRC's annual Feast for Freedom, which encourages people and businesses to host feasts and raise money for people seeking safety and a new life in Australia.
"These people, they are like me – they want place to start. We start to train them to give them enough confidence so they feel they are part of community."
Alongside Hamed's Persian recipes are those from Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea and Greece. The latter is the home country of ASRC CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis, who is kicking off Feast for Freedom with a public event for 250 people.
Those who attend can try recipes from all the "hero cooks", with chef Darren Purchese (Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio) hosting the evening and Adam D’Sylva (Coda, Tonka) contributing a duck bolognese.
Kon says, "In Greek, there's a term for 'love for the stranger', theoxenia.
"Feast for Freedom is about sharing that which binds us and connects us – our shared humanity, our shared stories, our shared journeys as the kids of immigrants and refugees, of First Nations people – and that we are a community."
"In Greek there's a term for 'love for the stranger', theoxenia."
Hero cook Genet Fida was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and came to Australia seeking asylum in December 2010. She's been cooking since she was 13 years old and volunteers at ASRC.
The four vegetarian recipes she's provided are loaded with spices, herbs, onion, garlic and include affordable ingredients like lentils, cabbage and potatoes.
Although Feast for Freedom participants may never have tried to cook Ethiopian food before, Genet insists the recipes are straightforward. "It is easy to do," she says. "I select simple vegetarian food, like cabbage, which I think is simple for everyone to start."
The support ASRC provided her inspired her to become a volunteer. When she arrived and was seeking a protection visa, the ASRC provided a case manager, social worker, lawyer, food and accommodation during this difficult time.
"They did a lot of things for me and that is why I wanted to help asylum seeker, the people who came like me, I need to help them. That is why I'm here," she says.
"This country for me is new – technology new, people new, food is also new – and at that time not only me but also a lot of people like me were crying, missing our country, our mum, and they treated us like father and mother. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is like a family for me."
In the future Genet hopes to open an Ethiopian coffee shop and teach people about the health benefits of teff, a grain used to make traditional injera flatbread originating in Ethiopia.
"When you're working with your hands it is something sweet for you – it is good and it makes you happy. I love to cook and I love my traditional food also," she says.
Food is a major part of identity and cooking the cuisine of others is one way to learn more about and celebrate diverse cultures. Feast for Freedom is aiming for 700 sign-ups to raise $400,000. There are no restrictions on where or when the feasts can be held – last year there was one in Vanuatu.
Kon says, "We're really keen to try to get businesses to host their own feasts this year. We have been saying to workplaces, 'host a lunch, host a dinner, host a brekkie – everyone can sign up and do their own Feast for Freedom, it's so easy."
Feast for Freedom runs from March 19 to 22, but people can register to host a feast any time from February at feastforfreedom.org.au.
Kon's Feast is by donation and will be held at 6pm on Thursday 20 February at the ASRC, Footscray in Melbourne. You can find more about Kon's feast here.