It’s Saturday and the corridors of the crypt under the church of La Madeleine in Paris are unusually busy. Today, the Refugee Food Festival stops at Refettorio Paris which, for the first time since its inauguration, will open to the public and welcome Syrian chef Mohammad Elkhaldy to cook in its kitchen, alongside the Refettorio’s resident chef Maxime.
For the third year in a row, this initiative started by the Food Sweet Food association with the support of the UN High Committee for Refugees (UNHCR), has managed to mobilise hundreds of restaurants, in 14 different locations around the world, to open the doors of their kitchens to refugee chefs, helping to change perceptions on refugees and allowing people to discover new flavors and tastes.
Tonight, the all-Syrian menu will include: amuse-bouche, starter, main course and dessert – all prepared with surplus ingredients that would have otherwise being wasted.
Before the war, chef Elkhakdy owned several restaurants and appeared regularly on cooking shows on television in Syria and UAE. In 2011, as the civil war broke out, he fled Syria with his family and ended up in Paris.
As volunteers, it’s an amazing experience for us to be part of his journey, to share this special evening and to listen to the story he tells through his dishes.
At 8.30pm, there’s a long line outside the Refettorio: more than 120 guests are expected. Inside, we deal with last-minute details to the strains of Syrian music provided by the chef himself.
We welcome the guests with a homemade date juice and an amuse bouche of hummus and chicken liver. They are then served batata haraa, a Syrian spiced-potato for the appetizer and duck magret, molokha and coriander as main course.
For the grand finale, the chef came up with a beautiful dessert. Looking at it, he said: «When the story of life is embodied in a dish, then that is the story of freedom».
The nest represents his home and the bird freedom.
The Refugee Food Festival was a success, we can tell by looking at the guests’ smiles. The atmosphere is cheerful both in the dining room and in the kitchen. At the end of the night, the entire team of volunteers, chefs and organisers thanks the guests: we are received with applauses, but the biggest satisfaction is seeing the smile on Mohammad’s face.
We have been regulars volunteers at the Refettorio Paris since its opening and it was great to be able to show to a different crowd what the Refettorio does everyday: nourish the body and the soul.
Giorgia, Fanny & Nora