UK Migrant Cookery School Offers Recipe For Integration

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UK migrant cookery school offers recipe for integration

London, (APP - UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 19th Jun, 2024) At the Migrateful cookery school in central London, chefs Najee and Sanobar help their Syrian colleague Faten teach family recipes from back home to a group of young professionals.

Participants are split into pairs, each team tasked with creating one of six dishes on the menu, including tabouleh, chicken shawarma and aubergine stew with fried potatoes.

Najee and Sanobar are on hand to offer guidance and even help out, as the open-plan kitchen bursts into a cheerful cacophony of chatter and chopping, clanging pots and pans and the sizzling sound of vegetables bathing in simmering oil.

Traditional middle Eastern music plays throughout, and at the end of the three-hour class, students and teachers sit down together to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

For Najee, an artist who fled Afghanistan when the Taliban returned to power in 2021, cooking and sharing meals among strangers creates a sense of camaraderie that brings people closer.

"When you cook and share food together, you build a connection. You learn something from people when you eat together. You learn about their cultures, what they are doing in their lives. You learn from them as well," he told AFP.

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Najee arrived in the UK in June 2022, after a perilous nearly nine-month journey through Iran, Turkey, Greece then France that saw him sleep under bridges and in train stations.

He initially stayed in UK government accommodation in south London, and struggled with being unable to work or study, and sharing accommodation with strangers.

"In the first few months I was very depressed. I stayed in my room a lot," he said.

But his routine changed and his depression lifted when he joined Migrateful, a charity staffed mainly by refugees and migrants.

"I was really impressed. Everyone was so kind," he said, even if he admitted being nervous at the start.

He knew he had a talent for cooking since he was a teenager when his friends would invite him to cook for them. But now he was being trained "like a professional".

When he obtained his refugee status in September 2023, no longer barred from working, he was able to earn an income from teaching classes and catering for individual homes.

Cooking offers Najee, who preferred not to give his full name, an outlet for his creativity.

"The food should not only taste good, it should also look good," he said.

Sanobar Majidova left her native Uzbekistan for the UK to provide a better education for her children. A year after she arrived in 2019, lockdown began.

"My English was zero. I was sitting at home with my four children and it was a hard time," she said.

To keep her children happy, every day she would scour the internet in search of new recipes to cook for them.

After hearing about Migrateful through a friend, she realised she could turn her culinary passion into a career.

Now, there is nothing she enjoys more than teaching others how to cook pilaf, a traditional rice dish that was designated "King of Meals" by world heritage body UNESCO in 2016.

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"We support migrants who come to the UK and are struggling to integrate, who are not confident with their English language or are barred from legally working," said Migrateful founder Jess Thompson.

"So far we've had about 38 different nationalities, so a lot of exciting cuisines."

The main nationalities they work with are those that are experiencing forced migration from countries in the Middle East, Africa, southeast Asia and Latin America.

"They feel socially isolated when they come to the country, so Migrateful offers them a safe haven.

"They have a community. They build their confidence and self-esteem because they feel they have something to offer to the country. They feel valued and celebrated."

Many of their chefs go on to obtain full-time employment in restaurants or run their own catering business.

For Thompson, Migrateful provides the opportunity for host communities to meet refugees and shift negative attitudes towards migration.

"When you meet them and have this meaningful interaction and you share food together, you see them as a fellow human and no longer as a threat.

"Migration will always be part of our lives, so we need to find ways to celebrate it and make it a positive thing for our society.

"London would be nowhere without the contribution of migrants."