Post by Florence de Vesvrotte, photos by Kelsey Krach, photo captions by Felicia Beltran.
Madrid For Refugees’ inaugural Chefugee dinner gathered international guests for a night of authentic Syrian food prepared by refugee chef Khaled Dery.
With a background in international development and having recently moved to Madrid from London, one of Europe’s biggest activism hubs, the one thing I had very much on my mind when I arrived was: how can I continue being an activist in Spain?
One might think that, despite the fact that Europe is currently undergoing a huge crisis, Spain is rather quiet in terms of activism when compared with other countries. However, this is not the case!
I was so happy when I took part in a race organised by Amnesty International in support of Syria. Expecting only a few hundred participants, thousands of Spaniards came along. I was delighted too when I realised how many initiatives were taking place at a local level. And what better image to symbolise this than the giant banner on Madrid’s Town Hall with ‘Refugees Welcome’ emblazoned across it.
Most of all, I was really happy to discover the recently-formed association, Madrid For Refugees. I’d initially thought that the association was set up only to help Syrian refugees, but in fact its aim is to support refugees of all nationalities, and rightly so. What I like the most about this organisation is how pragmatic and practical it seems to be, the concept being very simple: there are refugees coming, we can’t stop that, but we can help those who make it to Spain.
It is refreshing to find organisations that set themselves realistic goals, and I recently went along to their inaugural ‘Chefugee’ event to see their work first hand. The aim of this event was to support a recently-arrived refugee as he goes about setting himself up in Madrid professionally – a pretty key thing when it comes to rebuilding your life. In this instance the refugee, Khaled, is a chef, and he prepared a buffet dinner for over 30 people in return for a fee based on our contributions. See the impressive menu of dishes served during the evening. The night allowed us to be introduced to his professionalism and be in a position to recommend him to professionals we know here, and to think in practical terms how we could potentially help him.
Considering how under-supported and lost a refugee is on their arrival in a foreign country, facilitating connections such as these with locals is to me the most powerful way to help anyone. Isn’t human connection what we need the most in general, and in particular, when in crisis? Isn’t this what solidarity actually is?
During the course of the evening, I became friends with a lady I met who was also a refugee from Syria, and I intend to do what I can to introduce her to anyone who might be able to improve her situation here; friends and work contacts. For me, Chefugees has therefore proved to be a fantastic way to connect people and create links that, in the end, feels a thousand times more useful than sending money or goods to people thousands of kilometres from us.
To make a human connection, and one that offers emotional and professional support, is the best way we can help, I believe. I do hope many more events of this kind will take place.
Khaled took a lot of time to find the ingredients for the authentic Syrian meal, including selecting from this wide variety of spices.
Since the dinner was on the 5th floor of a flat with no lift, the MFR team had a hard job transporting the ingredients and other goods. Khaled insisted on carrying as much as he could while the rest of us were taking our time and worrying about injuries or dropping things. We had a good laugh when Khaled encouraged us along with his favourite saying, ‘Don’t worry. Be happy.’
The hours and hours of cooking and preparation went by fast with happy friends, volunteers, refugees and MFR team members to laugh with.
We almost thought the Mahashi dish (stuffed vegetables) wouldn’t be possible as it took us forever to find white zucchinis (courgettes) in Madrid! Khaled just didn’t want to settle for the basic green ones! So much determination and preparation went into the meal, and it definitely showed.
The amount of multi-tasking, organisation and talent it took for Khaled to pull off the dinner was incredible. At least to our eyes. For him, it was just another day in the kitchen.
MFR team members helping to finish the Cheese and Vegetable Rollsteaks was quite the entertainment. In this photo, MFR Events Chair Noah Wanebo dives into the prep work and churns out the rolls. It was such an incredible learning and cultural experience for everyone.
The Qras Kibbeh (meat croquettes) was the most time-consuming dish on the menu. It took a lot of teamwork (and that magical appliance in every Spanish kitchen – ‘el Thermomix’) to get the job done. The dough is made from bulgur wheat and minced beef blended together and then made into croquettes stuffed with more mince, vegetables and spices, before being fried. Khaled showed some of us how to make them so we could help out. He was so encouraging, and when one of ours didn’t turn out quite right, he would simply take it into his hands and reshape it until it was perfect.
More than thirty guests attended the Chefugee pilot dinner from 17 countries around the world: England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, the Philippines, Scotland, Spain, Syria, Ukraine, the United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and Wales. As most guests were expats living in Madrid, there was a warm atmosphere of community-building as everyone bonded through the common language of food.
Khaled was assisted by two other refugees, Subhi from Palestine, and Helena from the Ukraine. At the evening’s close, he was given the chance to speak to the guests. He told us that the Syrian culture is nothing but a culture of peace. Cooking, he explained, is a way for him to spread that message of peace to the world.
The dishes cooked during the evening were: Tabbouleh, Fattoush Salad, Khyar w Laban, Baba Ghannouj, Warak Enab, Cheese Sambusik, Mutabbal, Veggies Sambusik, Meat Sambusik, Qras Kibbeh, Hummus, Mahashi, Grilled Vegetables, Mushroom Rollsteak and Cheese Rollsteak. Baklawa was served for dessert. See the menu for the mouthwatering full descriptions of the dishes.