Top Australian chefs plate up taste of Syria for a good cause

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As Australia welcomes an intake of Syrians fleeing the war-torn country, almost 100 local chefs will be celebrating the refugees' culture in a somewhat unconventional way.

For 10 years, Sharon and Carol Salloum have been delighting Australian palates with the flavours of Syria.

Carol said they've had to educate some clients, too.

“When we first opened 10 years ago, people didn't even know where Syria was and we'd say to them, 'Lebanon, yes?'"

“We'd have to say it's similar to Lebanese food, Egyptian food and so on, and then they'd know.”

And rather than have Syria known only as a nation ravaged by the war, the sisters are determined to represent the country once considered the jewel of the Middle East.

Head chef at their Sydney restaurant Almond Bar, Sharon Salloum said she wanted to honour and preserve her family's heritage.

“There's so much beauty and love and hope in Syria still, and we have a lot of family over there," she said.

"I think it's really important for people to see past what's happening, because people are still living there.

“People that have gone there have thought the hospitality there was amazing," Carol added.

"Hospitality is in our blood, you know, to show them that this is Syria - this is what Syria is about, it's about love, love of culture, love of food, love of people."

So when they heard about an initiative celebrating Syrian cuisine, they were thrilled - and they’re not the only ones on board.

Chefs from almost 100 Australian restaurants are creating their signature dishes with a Syrian twist, in a bid to raise funds and awareness about the plight of Syria's children as a part of Cook for Syria.

An initiative created in the UK, with the likes of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson contributing dishes, it has now raised more than $200,000 for UNICEF's Syria relief fund.

Cook for Syria
Tantalising treats: Haloumi Parsley rolls.
SBS News

Celebrated chef, Kylie Kwong is among those taking part in Cook for Syria.

“I think it's an amazing cause, I think, as a restaurateur, as a chef, I just want to do everything I possibly can.

"That's what my staff and I live for, really - how can we best serve the community, and of course we all know this is one of the greatest causes right now in the world.”

Head chef at Long Chim restaurant, David Thompson, is also involved. He travelled to Syria a decade ago and continues to feel a profound connection to the country.

“There is history that goes back ... millennia upon millennia. The whole of our human history, our shared human history, is shared deep in the soils of Syria.”

The initiative opened in Sydney at Three Blue Ducks restaurant.

At $320 a head, feasting on these dishes didn't come cheap – but with proceeds going to charity, 120 food-lovers were quick to snap up seats.

So far, more than $30,000 has been raised.

The month-long campaign will be held throughout March with 30 restaurants in Sydney and 48 restaurants in Melbourne taking part.

But any restaurant can be involved, donating three dollars from a Syrian-inspired dish, to UNICEF.

The movement will make its way to the United States in June.

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