Food with a Purpose – MRC Tas Social Enterprise Kitchen

Anyone following Migrant Resource Centre Tasmania’s (MRC Tas) Kitchen on social media has most likely salivated over the injeras, dolmas and fatayer that make up their feed.  

But there’s more to the Kitchen than meets the eye. As well as serving up incredible meals, the social enterprise kitchen works to provide employment pathways for people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Participants in the program undertake practical work experience to set them up for further training and employment opportunities in the hospitality industry. Some program participants have joined the Kitchen’s employed staff, and there’s now a strong team of employees and work experience participants who cook side by side. 

The Kitchen provides a work experience program for people from migrant and refugee backgrounds

As Megan Quill, Food Manager at the MRC Tas Kitchen, explains, the purpose of the social enterprise kitchen is “to provide practical work experience to help participants on a pathway to employment.” The work experience program also offers participants English and vocabulary support which, inevitably, means new friendships are formed. “For some, it’s about building confidence speaking English, or learning hospitality skills. For everyone, it’s a place to connect with like-minded folks and become part of a team.” 

The cooking that happens at the Kitchen is not just about the food; it’s equally focused on building connections and strengthening ties across and between cultures. Cuisines from around the world have met in the melting pot that is the MRC Tas Kitchen. Migrants and refugees from countries with rich culinary histories like Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea have helped diversify the palette of the Tasmanian community. Cooking and sharing food has a language all of its own,” explains Megan. “It’s the most simple, powerful and delicious way of connecting people.” 

Try Abebea’s traditional Eritrean coffee with ginger

For participants in the program, too, it’s as much about the act of cooking as it is about sharing food and recipes with others. “I like to cook food from other countries and to share my food from my country,” says Abebea Behraki, a former participant from Eritrea who is now a Food Worker at the Kitchen. Fakiha Ahmed, from Ethiopia, explains that cooking is her way of sharing “I like to cook for other people. I live alone and I cook simple food for myself, but better dishes for others.” Abebea and Fakiha’s love of food lends something different to the recipes they create. A sense of authenticity and food prepared from the heart, with more than a little dash of warmth. It also gives goals for the future, dreams that will help to further enrich Tasmania’s vibrant food scene. For Yayesh Gebremeskel, a participant from Eritrea, there are plans of one day sharing her Eritrean dishes with the world. “The best job for me would be a job cooking my traditional food in a kitchen,” she says.

Sharing food and recipes with others in the community strengthens the ties of acceptance and connection in a way that only food can do. Food is a great connector, and is often people’s first knowledge of a new culture. For example, members of the community who may not know any Indian languages by name would most likely be familiar with samosas or butter chicken. It’s an important first step, and a gateway to building interest in, and further understanding of, a culture,” says Megan. 

Even a glance at the weekly menus—posted each week to Instagram and Facebook– reveal how Tasmania’s food culture has been enriched by the knowledge and ingredients that individuals from migrant and refugee backgrounds bring with them. It is important that people from migrant and refugee backgrounds can retain culinary traditions. Not only does this benefit the tastebuds of the Tasmanian community, but it helps ensure those from migrant and refugee backgrounds experience a sense of comfort and connection to countries of origin, even as they are embraced by new cities and towns. 

The Kitchen offers a range of fresh Middle Eastern Sweets

Megan describes firsthand the powerful impact of food for people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. “What I have noticed about the kitchen team sharing their traditional recipes is the immense sense of pride it gives them. When they serve someone a plate of their food and answer questions about it in their newly learnt English, they are literally handing over a taste of their culture and a memory of their home, and making a tangible connection to their new community.”

The MRC Tas Kitchen is a testament to the positive story of migration and resettlement, the potential for new connections, friendships and greater cultural understanding. 

Dine in at the Kitchen or takeaway

Visitors can expect to be served a range of dishes from around the globe. Think falafel with tabouli and pickles, warm lentil soups, arayes- a meat-stuffed flatbread from Syria- and chicken fatteh, the ultimate comfort food. 

The Kitchen also offers a catering service for events across Hobart, with a range of canapes, lunches and sweets available. For more information on catering, or to fill out a request form, visit https://mrctas.org.au/catering/

Kitchen is located at the KGV Sports and Community Centre, Level G, 1A Anfield St Glenorchy.
Open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday between 9:30am and 2:30pm. Dine in or takeaway.

The work experience program is open to anyone from a migrant background. Applicants can contact Migrant Resource Centre Tasmania on 03 6221 0999 or email settlement@mrctas.org.au to complete an assessment.

Posted: 25/11/2021

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