Chefugee: Removing labels and focusing on people and their talents
All too soon we have the tendency to forget that behind any crisis, a person afflicted remains a person. We are quick to label this person a refugee and that one an asylum seeker. True as that may be, again all too quickly, we forget that behind such circumstantially imposed labels, there is a person like you or me. A person whose hopes, dreams and aspirations are not that far removed from ours. It just so happens that life smiled on us and we can pursue our passions with a degree of ease. For once, let’s endeavour to remove the labels and focus on a human being. What you find will inspire you and also spur you on. This was what my attendance at Madrid For Refugees’ second Chefugee event permitted me to see.
I always say, wherever there is food, I am to be found. So it was a no-brainer that after receiving my invite to attend Chefugee, I vowed I would be there in a heartbeat. I did not know what to expect. Would the event be held in a restaurant? Would they have hired a tent? Would it be in someone’s house? Would I have to brush up on my Arabic skills? All was to be answered upon my arrival. Chefugee was scheduled to take place just a few hops and skips from the south of Madrid Rio. It was held in someone’s house. The place was perfect as it had a spacious courtyard that fit the more than 25 attendees comfortably. As soon as my friend and I arrived, we were introduced to a few of the people who formed part of the Madrid For Refugees (MFR) team and who were kindly helping out in all aspects of the event. As we settled down into sussing out the mood and meeting the guests who had also come for the first time, it soon became clear that we were there to enjoy amazing Syrian cuisine prepared from the heart by Khaled. Khaled was working away in the kitchen putting the final touches to the meal with the help of some MFR volunteers.
In all of this, not once did anyone mention or even talk about Khaled’s refugee status. There was no mention of the harrowing ordeal he had been through as he made his way to Europe. No mention of the countless nights spent on the streets or going from country to country or from police custody to police custody. True as this all was, on the night of the Chefugee event everyone was there to revel in his culinary talents. The food we ate delivered above and beyond all expectations; so much so that there are still days I wake up wondering where on earth I can find a tabouleh or some kabsa rice with chicken as good as Khaled’s. At only 24 years old, it is safe to say that our chef for the night has a bright future ahead. I am 100% positive that were he to open a Syrian restaurant right here in Madrid, it would be a hit in a short space of time. His food, in a few words, brings flavour, spice and the pizzazz so needed on the Madrid gastronomic scene.
After attending the event with my friend and following the article she wrote for MuchBites, it makes me happy to know that more people than before now know about MFR, Chefugee and Khaled. Who knows, Khaled could be well on the way to establishing a decent life in Spain as he works hard to put the past behind him. Is Khaled a refugee? Yes. But my goodness is he industrious and brave. To take on the mammoth challenge of cooking for so many people in a non-professional kitchen means that, when life smiles on him even more, he will be a force to be reckoned with. All in all, I am grateful to MFR for this project that focuses on people and their talents, not on their unfortunate circumstances. If you ever get a chance to attend Chefugee, I highly recommend it.
About the Author
Wesley Muchimwe is the founder and lead blogger on MuchBites Madrid, a gastroblog designed to help expats and tourists eat well in Madrid. Given the plethora of restaurants in Madrid, on his blog Wesley endeavours to give you only the best so that your final decision on where to eat is an experience worth writing home about!