San francisco restaurants

San Francisco restaurants open their kitchens to refugee chefs

SAN FRANCISCO: At Tawla restaurant in San Francisco, Muna Anaee dusted her hands with flour and gently broke off a piece of golden dough to bake bread eaten in Iraq, the country she fled with her family.
Anaee was baking more than 100 loaves of bread for Wednesday night dinners as part of a program that allows aspiring refugees to become chefs to work in professional kitchens.
The Refugee Food Festival – a joint initiative of the UN Refugee Agency and a French non-profit organization, Food Sweet Food – started in Paris in 2016 and traveled to the United States for the first time this year, with the participation of restaurants in New York as well. The owners of the establishments entrust their kitchens to refugee chefs for an evening, allowing them to prepare tasting platters of their country’s cuisine and share a taste of their home.
Restaurants in 12 cities outside the United States are participating in the program this month.
“It was a big dream to open a restaurant,” said Anaee, 45, who now has a green card.
Anaee was one of five refugees chosen to showcase their food in San Francisco, each at a different restaurant and on a different night, Tuesday through Saturday. Organizers say the aim is to help refugees succeed as leaders and raise awareness of the plight of refugees around the world.
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, her husband and their two children left Baghdad in 2013 due to concerns about terrorism and violence. She worked as a kindergarten teacher in Iraq, not a chef, but was invited to pursue a cooking career by peer review in an English class she took in California after tasting some of her food.
Azhar Hashem, the owner of Tawla, said hosting Anaee is 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 tougher conservations,” she said.
The other four aspiring chefs who serve food in San Francisco come from Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Senegal.
Karen Ferguson, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Northern California offices, said San Francisco was a good city for the food festival.
“We have so much diversity, and we see the evidence of it in the region’s culinary expertise,” she said.
The Bay Area has a high concentration of refugees from Afghanistan, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Eritrea and Burma, although the 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 area has dropped dramatically since the Trump administration imposed a cap this year. at arrivals, Ferguson said.
Pa Wah, a 41-year-old refugee from Myanmar, presented dishes at the Hog Island Oyster Co. in San Francisco on Tuesday. She said she didn’t consider a career in the kitchen until she moved to California in 2011 and got her green card.
Cooking was a means of survival in the Thailand refugee camp where she lived after escaping Myanmar’s civil war as a child. Attending 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.