KENT, WASH. - This Kent kitchen where a handful of cooks are kneading, chopping and sautéing is a true melting pot.
Tenaye Adem is from Ethiopia, Bebe Renzaho is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iryna Mikhalchuk is from Ukraine – and they’re are all apprentices for Project Feast. This hands-on program helps immigrants and refugees learn the ins and outs of the restaurant business, in hopes that they'll open their own.
“I would like to open my business in the future but not now,” explained Bebe Renzaho. “ I would like to work for somebody, so that I can get a little bit of serving, and maybe in the future I have a vision that I can have my own.”
Well-known Seattle chef Lisa Nakamura teaches at Project Feast.
"I think it is important that we as a nation of immigrants turn around and help the next wave coming in,” said Nakamura, who adds that helping immigrants now is more important than ever.
"I don't care really what your political stance is - it's about being a human being,” Nakamura said. "They've all fought their battles to be here, so my job is to try to ease their way."
Nakamura grew up in Hawaii in a Japanese family, cooked at The French Laundry, then launched a restaurant dedicated to Italian dumplings: Gnocchi Bar. She knows how breaking bread breaks down cultural barriers.
"I view food is a bridge,” Nakamura said.
This chef and these apprentices are combining talents to open the most international eatery in the Pacific Northwest -- Ubuntu Street Café. Nakamura explains that Ubuntu is a Zulu word that loosely translates into ‘I am because You are’.
The students take turns making food from their native countries -- today Irenya guides the group as they make a classic Ukrainian soup – borscht.
These immigrant students end each day the same way: they sit down -- and eat together.
They welcome anyone to join them for a feast that turns strangers into friends.
"We may come from different cultures, from different parts of the world, but we do have this common thing. That's, we're all human beings, right?" Nakamura said.
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