San Francisco restaurants open kitchens to refugee chefs

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In this photo taken June 19, 2018, Pa Wah, a refugee from Myanmar, mixes shrimp in a turmeric tempura batter at the Hog Island Oyster Co. restaurant in San Francisco during the inaugural Refugee Food Festival. (AP)
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In this photo taken June 20, 2018, a bowl of fresh pita bread made by guest chef Muna Anaee, a refugee from Iraq, beckons from a dining table at Tawla Restaurant in San Francisco during the inaugural Refugee Food Festival. (AP)
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In this photo taken June 20, 2018, Muna Anaee, prepares a ball of khobz orouk, a flatbread she would eat frequently in her native Iraq, at the Tawla restaurant kitchen in San Francisco during the inaugural Refugee Food Festival. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2018
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San Francisco restaurants open kitchens to refugee chefs

  • The Refugee Food Festival started in Paris in 2016 and came to the US for the first time this year
  • The program lets refugees aspiring to be chefs work in professional kitchens

SAN FRANCISCO: At San Francisco’s Tawla restaurant, Muna Anaee powdered her hands with flour and gently broke off a piece of golden dough to prepare bread eaten in Iraq, the country she fled with her family.
Anaee was preparing more than 100 loaves for diners Wednesday night as part of a program that lets refugees aspiring to be chefs work in professional kitchens.
The Refugee Food Festival — a joint initiative of the United Nations Refugee Agency and a French nonprofit, Food Sweet Food — started in Paris in 2016 and came to the US for the first time this year, with restaurants in New York participating as well. The establishments’ owners turn over their kitchens to refugee chefs for an evening, allowing them to prepare sampling platters of their country’s cuisine and share a taste of their home.
Restaurants in 12 cities outside the US are taking part in the program this month.
“It’s been a big dream to open a restaurant,” said Anaee, 45, who now has a green card.
Anaee was among five refugees chosen to showcase their food in San Francisco — each at a different restaurant and on a different night, from Tuesday through Saturday. Organizers say the goal is to help the refugees succeed as chefs and raise awareness about the plight of refugees worldwide.
It’s important to “really get to know these refugees and their personal stories,” said Sara Shah, who brought the event to California after seeing it in Belgium.
Anaee and her husband and two children left Baghdad in 2013 over concerns about terrorism and violence. She worked as a kindergarten teacher in Iraq, not a chef, but was urged to pursue cooking as a career by peers in an English class she took in California after they tasted some of her food.
Azhar Hashem, Tawla’s owner, said hosting Anaee was part of the restaurant’s mission to broaden diners’ understanding of the Middle East — a region that inspires some of its dishes.
“Food is the best — and most humanizing — catalyst for having harder conservations,” she said.
The four other aspiring chefs serving food in San Francisco are from Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Senegal.
Karen Ferguson, executive director of the Northern California offices of the International Rescue Committee, said San Francisco was a good city for the food festival.
“We have so much diversity, and we see the evidence of that in the culinary expertise in the area,” she said.
The Bay Area has a high concentration of refugees from Afghanistan, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Eritrea and Burma, though exact numbers are unclear, according to the rescue committee. Its Oakland office settled more than 400 refugees in the Bay Area last year, but the number of refugees settling in the region has fallen dramatically since the Trump administration this year placed a cap on arrivals, Ferguson said.
Pa Wah, a 41-year-old refugee from Myanmar, presented dishes at San Francisco’s Hog Island Oyster Co. on Tuesday. She said she didn’t consider a career in cooking until she moved to California in 2011 and got her green card.
Cooking was a means of survival at the Thailand refugee camp where she lived after escaping civil conflict in Myanmar as a child. Participating in the food festival showed her the challenges of running a restaurant, but also helped her realize she was capable of opening her own, she said.


Meet the Palestinian sisters keeping the art of embroidery alive

Updated 15 July 2018
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Meet the Palestinian sisters keeping the art of embroidery alive

LONDON: Among the eight striking works currently on display at the London-based Victoria and Albert Museum’s Jameel Prize 5 exhibition, a piece entitled “Shawl,” by Palestinian sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abudail of the Naqsh Collective, makes a powerful impression.
“For this artwork, my sister and I thought about the significance of precious embroidered pieces made by Palestinian women and put them in the context of what is happening today in Palestine,” explained Nisreen.
“For a Palestinian woman, a shawl has a lot of meaning. It’s a piece she carries with her always. She might use it to collect olives, to protect her from the wind or cover her baby. It witnesses her life story — her joy, laughter and sadness.
“These women should be doing embroidery and celebrating life. But instead, most of them are struggling to live, raise their children, find water, food and shelter. Embroidery is… a luxury. Not like before, when it was done in the spirit of joy and community. Nowadays, in these harsh times, the priority is just to survive,” she said.

A detailed shot of a “Shawl” showing the Palestinian embroidery pattern Eyes of Cows “عيون البقر" from Hebron. الخليل (خليل الرحمن) : يمتد تاريخ الخليل إلى 5500 عام وقد سماها الملك الكنعاني أربع بإسم (قرية أربع) . وكانت موطن إبراهيم الخليل ولذلك سُميت بإسمه. وبها الحرم الإبراهيمي الذي يُجلّه المسلمون واليهود. وللخليل تاريخ طويل في مقاومة الأعداء والغزاة. احتلتها إسرائيل عام 1967 وأسكنت فيها مستوطنين يهود. ورغم أن عددهم لا يتجاوز 1% من مجموع السكان، إلا أنهم يسيطرون على المدينة القديمة تحت حماية جيش الاحتلال الإسرائيلي. أطلس فلسطين - سلمان أبو ستة ( صفحة 79 ). #naqshcollective #nisreenabudail #nermeenabudail #palestinian #embroidery #pattern #art #design #stitich #unit #palestine #jordan

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The sisters, based in Jordan and Dubai, fuse their backgrounds in architecture and graphic design to create their highly original, sculptural work.
“We think these creative women would be happy to see that their art is ‘living’ and not simply being looked at as a museum exhibit. This craft is in our DNA: It reminds us of our grandmothers, our history and culture,” she said.
Created in their studio in Amman, “Shawl” transmits both delicacy and strength. It is made of solid walnut wood and brass to emphasize the durability of the craft. A variety of machines and manual tools were used to achieve the final result.
“We are determined that this craft is going to remain with us and live on through the generations,” Nisreen said.
The Jameel Prize, founded in partnership with Art Jameel, is for contemporary artists and designers inspired by Islamic tradition.
This year, the $33,000 prize was jointly awarded to artist Mehdi Moutashar and architect Marina Tabassum.
The exhibition is set to run until Nov. 25.