We attended a fundraiser for the Montclair Film Festival a few weeks ago where Stephen Colbert and Jon Oliver spoke about the state of our country after the election. Many people are afraid for their futures, of not being treated fairly or with kindness and humanity. Mr. Colbert, acknowledging that we cannot control for everything to come, said a few words that I can’t seem to forget.
“Get to know your neighbors.”
We took heed and invited a family of Syrian refugees to our house for Thanksgiving through a local program. We were able to host this family who has been through hell and back; they’ve lost their home, their city destroyed, they’ve had to resettle in a new country amidst a political climate that is increasingly unwelcoming to them.
We wanted our invite to be meaningful. We wanted them to know that there are people who care, people who want to get to know them, people who would be honored to have the opportunity to host them in the most intimate of spaces, their home.
We also wanted to nurture them. To make them feel comfortable, relaxed, cozy on a cold day. And because I am a lover of cooking, I wanted them to be nurtured through the food that I prepared for them. I wanted them to not just receive nourishment without having to worry about the cost of the food, the time it would take to make it or the clean up afterward, but I wanted them to be well fed, to enjoy every bite and to learn about us through the dishes that we chose and planned for them to enjoy.
This is not new to me, to nurture through food. I have enjoyed cooking for others my entire life. What was different, however, was that I never realized how much of a gift it would be for me to share my food as a way to bridge the cultural and religious gap between different people in my own home.
I remember so vividly how I loved the elementary school International potlucks and how proud everyone was to share their food in the cafeteria; Robert Rowan’s Swedish meatballs, Patrick McCort’s chili con carne and Esther Chin’s shrimp toast. As I got older, I got more skilled with cooking and became part of an International cooking club. I later cooked for my family and my friends. I now cook dishes from around the globe because I love to eat them and serve them. I also have a recipe blog and business where I teach people to overcome their obstacles to cooking to be able to cook. But this meal brought a new and exhilarating experience of food and connection.
On Thanksgiving Day with the Syrian refugees, food brought us together. What started as an awkward kind of social experiment where no one spoke the other’s language, technology (thank you, google translate!), hand gestures, smiles and most of all a leap of faith helped us get to know our neighbors and I was grateful.
I was grateful for our new Syrian friends. I was grateful to my family and friends for being open to sharing our meal. I was grateful for the team that paired the Syrian family with us. And I was grateful to Stephen Colbert who inspired me to take control of something I can indeed do, something we can all do, to get to know our neighbors.
Very importantly and for the purpose of this post, I was grateful that I had the ability and skill to make food which was the conduit for connecting with this family. My hope is to share this gift of cooking and entertaining. Of cooking ethnically diverse meals to educate, to learn about other cultures and to nurture one another. Isn’t that what community is all about?
I am donating 25% of my Take Back the Kitchen individual sessions purchased until January 1st and to be redeemed within the next six months to helping relieve the financial burden that my new Syrian friends have weighing on them. This money will help pay for their airfare to the United States that they owe to the US government.
Please contact me to donate to this cause or purchase gift certificates for yourselves or your loved ones from Take Back the Kitchen this holiday season!