East Bay Chefs to Participate in Refugee Food Festival

They'll prepare pop-up dinners at trendy restaurants.


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Images: Remy Galvan-Hale

Four chefs — all of whom are refugees and all of whom are East Bay residents — will pair up with colleagues to prepare pop-up dinners at some of the Bay Area's trendiest restaurants this month.

It's part of the Refugee Food Festival, an international citizens' initiative launched in Paris in 2016 that aims to increase awareness about, and debunk prejudice against, refugees.

This third RFF will bring refugee guest-chefs to over a hundred restaurants in fourteen cities including Amsterdam, Athens, and — for the first time ever — San Francisco. 

"I knew San Francisco would be a great fit as an inaugural Refugee Food Festival US city because of its emphasis on integration and celebration of diversity," said RFF project manager Sara Shah.

"I also knew the social atmosphere embedded in San Francisco's culture would make it the perfect city to welcome RFF with open hearts — not to mention that the quality of food and the restaurant scene throughout the Bay Area are unparalleled," Shah said.

The pop-up schedule starts on June 19, when Burmese chef Pa Wah (pictured above) will be featured at Hog Island in San Francisco's Ferry Building. On June 20, Iraqi chef Muna will be featured at Tawla in the Mission District. On June 21, Bhutanese chef Anu will be featured at DOSA on Fillmore Street. On June 22, Muna will reappear — this time, at Son’s Addition in the Mission District. On June 23, Senegalese chef Vito will be at Jardiniere in Hayes Valley.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association is working with the RFF to make these unticketed pop-ups possible. A portion of the profits from each dinner will be donated to a local organization that helps integrate refugees.

Iraqi guest-chef Muna worked as a kindergarten teacher in Baghdad before, concerned for their safety, she and her husband decided to leave Iraq with their two children. 

Arriving in the United States five years ago and now working in a French-language daycare facility, Muna continues to pursue her first love, teaching. But — fostered by the wildly enthusastic response to dishes she cooked for her ESL classmates — she's also built a small business out of her second love: cooking.

"I miss the two beautiful rivers in Iraq, the Tigris and Euphrates," Muna told East Bay 365. "Both are the source of civilization in Iraq and of course I miss my family every day, especially my mom, my dad, my brothers, and my beautiful sister.

“When we arrived" in the Bay Area, "we felt homesick. But now our feelings have changed," Muna said. 

"We want a place to make our family happy, a place that is not dangerous. I do hard work because when I see my kids happy and safe, that makes me happy.”

She hopes to eventually open her own Iraqi restaurant in the Bay Area.

"The refugee crisis is a large one," Shah noted, "and when studying the theories behind refugeeism it is easy to lose sight of the humanness of the refugee problem. We mistakenly start to view these individuals as facts and figures. 

"But by working closely with these refugees, I am reminded of how different every individual's life journey, yet how similar the human experience is — at the end of the day we all want the best for our children and families. 

"RFF reminds us to view refugees as people, not any different from you or I, and uses the power of food to break down these walls. All of these wonderful refugee chefs are dynamic, beautiful, and resilient human beings who I am humbled to be able to work with."

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