2016: A Look Back


Copyright Sarah Gilbert
In our early years, while we targeted job placement or further training as outcomes, we saw that our programs helped our participants gain confidence. We realized that intangible outcomes such as increased comfort in public speaking and confidence were just as important to getting jobs and advancing as hard skills are. Through the deli apprenticeship program, we realized that a longer format hands on experience would be more beneficial than our 6 week skills training for skill retention as well as for skills that could lead to more advanced positions in a commercial kitchen. While many of our participants wanted jobs in the food industry, many shared their dreams of opening their own food business.

Throughout this year there was a constant stream of news regarding the Syrian refugee crisis and the highly divisive Presidential election. There was much portrayal of refugees and immigrants in a negative light. It’s always been a part of the Project Feast mission to be a platform for intercultural exchange. This year, we were determined to take our community events to the next level.These realizations led us to creating an outline for Project Feast 2.0: a more intensive and longer culinary training wrapped around running a small restaurant and creating a myriad of opportunities for deep intercultural dialogue.

We ran into many challenges this year predominantly with finding the type of commercial kitchen space in South King County that would meet our needs and budget. This search confirmed the need for our type of programming especially in South King County. Our experience finding a space and experiencing the hassles of finding contractors for installing commercial hoods for instance, will make us better mentors for our apprentices and graduates as they follow the next steps to make their dreams a reality.

We’re excited to share that

1.     We found the perfect space for a small restaurant in downtown Kent and the necessary remodeling is now underway.
2.     Developed curriculum for a 4 month intensive culinary training program that meets for 5 hours every day.
3.     Gained accreditation for our apprenticeship program through Highline College.
4.     Launched Potluck for Peace and Migrating Meals
5.     Hired Executive Chef Lisa Nakamura
6.     Raised $25K in donations and matching and $70K for launching the apprenticeship program and building our capacity next year

Today, we are poised to launch the new apprenticeship program in mid January and open the café to the public in mid February. We look forward to a busy year with graduating many apprentices, deepening our partnerships, continuing our community events and fostering dialogue.

Your support has been invaluable. We hope you will continue to follow us, attend our events, hire us for catering, and invest in our platform for empowering refugee and immigrant cooks. 

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PictureAnnie with Mohinga. Copyright Merrill Images
Yesterday’s snow was a reminder that winter is right around the corner. In addition to the bleak weather, many Americans are worried about the direction the US is taking and fear for their safety and all that they hold dear. As we work to accept our reality, the work ahead of us lies in community re-building. How do we live and work with people we disagree with politically. How do we accept views that seem fundamentally different from our own? How do we stay engaged in the tough work ahead of us to shape our future while taking care of ourselves.

bell hooks sums it up perfectly: “In evoking that sense of breaking bread, we call upon the various traditions of sharing that take place in domestic, secular, and sacred life where we come together to give of ourselves to one another fully, to nurture life, to renew our spirits, sustain our hope”

While I reminisce about the many meals we have shared with so many of you, I thought of Annie Philit, a refuge from Burma who I had the pleasure of meeting and learning some personal recipes from. I heard recently that Annie’s family moved away to eastern Washington in search of better jobs and more affordable housing. I was sad that I didn’t get to say good bye. One of the times that Annie helped us, was to share her recipes with a group of 15 women that had gathered to experience Burmese cuisine. One of the dishes that we cooked that day was Mohinga, perhaps the national dish of Burma. I share this recipe as it feels like the perfect dish to warm up on a cold winter day and to nourish our souls as we continue to work towards a stronger community. The photos were taken by our host and professional photographer Lisa Merrill.

Download the Mohinga recipe below. 

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executive chef lisa nakamuraCopyright Jackie Donnelly
We are pleased to welcome Executive Chef Lisa Nakamura to the Project Feast team!  Lisa has more than twenty years of experience in the food industry ranging from her first cooking job working for Lisa Dupar to several Executive Chef positions to opening two of her own restaurants, Allium on Orcas Island and Gnocchi Bar on Capitol Hill. Lisa’s experience includes fine dining having worked for Thomas Keller at Napa Valley’s French Laundry as well as casual dining most recently at Gnocchi Bar. She has worked as a Chef in Munich, Germany as well as in Seoul, South Korea and truly understands what it is like to work internationally while not speaking the local language. While running a kitchen is already a high stress job, Lisa can claim to have done it under the added duress of Hurricane Katrina when she found herself needing to take over the kitchen at a hotel in New Orleans on day 5 of a new job.

Lisa is from Hilo, Hawaii and has a BS in Botany from Arizona State University. She graduated top of her class from Maryland’s L’Academie de Cuisine in 1995. Furry animals and kind people are some of Lisa’s favorite things.

As Project Feast’s Executive Chef, Lisa will lead the Project Feast training café in Kent, WA that we will launch to the public in February as well as our catering program. With Lisa joining our team, we look forward to phenomenal year ahead.  

This has been a tough week for everyone. Many of us have been processing our grief on many levels, and trying to make meaning out of the current situation our country is facing. We are at a loss for what to do and how to move forward.

At Project Feast, we pledge to continue to do our work from a place of compassion and love for all. We continue to see refugees and immigrants as people who have skills and strengths to bear, as people with the resilience that will be needed to help us move forward in this national crisis. We believe that however people voted, they did what they felt was best for themselves, for their family and their country. In this we are all the same.
This election has taught us that there is much work to be done to heal the large divides and polarization within our country. We recognize that human beings are too complex to fit into a check box of Democrat or Republican, white or person of color, rich or poor. We hope to be a platform for respectful discussions that are founded in a rich and nuanced exchange. We continue to drive forward with a solution-oriented attitude and continue to view “the problem as the solution”. We encourage everyone to take this election as an opportunity to face ourselves and each other, and to share our stories on an honest and human level.
We will continue to hold our monthly Migrating Meals and are brainstorming ways to expand this concept beyond our network. Together with our friends at Interfaith Community Sanctuary as well as Tulalip tribe member SiSwinKlae Laurel Boucher, we will continue to host Potlucks for Peace. We are actively planning the next one and it will likely happen in January / February. We hope for these events to be spaces for being honest with one another, and to engage together in the quiet activism of being vulnerable and listening to one another. Oh yea, and there will be food involved!
In order for this movement to thrive, we must be united. In order for us to do our best job as a platform for this kind of intercultural exchange, we will need to hear your input. What are your thoughts and ideas for ways in which we can all move forward in this together? What are your dreams? What are ways in which you would like to be involved? We look forward to hearing from you.
We leave you with this beautiful poem by Rabindranath Tagore, a 19th century Indian poet and Nobel Laureate.
Where the Mind is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high 
Where knowledge is free 
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 
By narrow domestic walls 
Where words come out from the depth of truth 
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection 
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit 
Where the mind is led forward by thee 
Into ever-widening thought and action 
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake 

-Rabindranath Tagore

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Potluck for Peace


Food nourishes more than just the body.” This Project Feast motto came alive two Saturdays ago at our first annual Potluck for Peace. We gathered at Seward Park on what was a beautiful fall day. At first glance, it was apparent this was no typical picnic. The sound of drumbeats echoed through the air as people filed in slowly, arms full with a dish from their culture or home country. Small groups gathered on the grass, as we eyed each new dish that came to the table. We came seeking nourishment, not only physical, but the nourishment that comes from connecting with other people and to the hope within ourselves.

This bright scene, however, had a dark beginnings. It came from  feelings of powerlessness amidst the xenophobic headlines and ongoing racial violence in this country. It came from the feelings of hopeless and sadness for the deep racial and cultural divides that continue to separate us. We wanted to do something to take back our power, as people that believe we have the capacity to create a peaceful and compassionate future. From these conversations, the idea of Potluck for Peace was born. We joined together with the Interfaith Community Sanctuary to start bringing this Potluck to life. Our goal was to bring people together to connect in our shared humanity. Any in Project Feast style, what better way to do this than through food?

Before we broke bread, however, SiSwinKlae Laurel Boucher of the Tulalip tribe opened the potluck with a welcoming song and dance. Her presence and songs, was a humbling reminder that the majority of the population are immigrants to this land, and of the many layers of welcoming that have occurred and are still occurring here. She gave thanks to the land that has provided us with all of the food that was to be shared between us.

Without a doubt, the potluck spread was something to be grateful for. From Iraqi Biryani to Peruvian Seco de pollo the flavors took us on a taste tour of the world. As we piled up our plates, some of the initial shyness and hesitation started to melt away and we began asking one another the stories behind the dishes we had chosen. Food has this magical effect on groups of people, it allows us to focus a love of food as one thing we all have in common despite language, cultural background, race, or gender identity. Although food differs around the world, it connects us all as one of our basic human necessities.

After filling our bellies, we then broke into small groups for discussion. The group dispersed into groups in the quiet corners of the picnic area and answered questions that were centered around the human experience. Each person answered a different question, while others listened. We talked about our experiences of forgiveness, home, discrimination, and hope. It was a chance for us to really hear each other, share bits and pieces of our stories, and break out of our day to day. and engage in conversations that could plant the seeds for a more compassionate future.  

As we came together as a group in the end, people expressed the hope they had found in themselves throughout the day. Many who had come with heavy hearts, discouraged, would leave feeling renewed. Laurel closed the circle with the “Butterfly Song”, a story of transformation. This song was a reminder that, like this potluck, beautiful things can emerge from a dark place. Even sadness and hopelessness has the power to transform into new beginnings. This potluck was a reminder that we have the capacity within us to make this transformation, and it is up to us to start the process.

Our vision is to make this an annual event, and hope to spread it out to the rest of the country! Stay tuned for more information.
We are so pleased to announce that our first Migrating Meals at Safari Njema was a great success.  Lucky for us, the group was fantastic! After everyone had arrived and settled around a large communal table, we dove into two different speeches to give us some context for the discussion. Both were written by Wangari Maathai, a 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate, Kenyan political and environmental activist, and founder of the Greenbelt Movement. These texts gave us some insight on connection between food and our cultural identity, and how food can be a source of pride and connection to one’s cultural identity.

Before going too deep, however, we needed fuel. Jane, owner of Safari Njema and our host for the night, appeared from the kitchen with both hands full of steaming Kenyan food. One after the other the bowls and platters made their way down the table: goat, tilapia, matoke cabbage, pilaf rice, ugali, chicken curry, and skuma to name a few. With our bellies full, the group was able to get to know each other a little bitter. The food was incredible, and the ingredients also told a story.

Maathai’s speeches helped us to understand more about the roots of Kenyan food and how food has been used as a critical tool in the colonization of a land and it's people. Kenyan food reflects the diversity of cultures present in Kenya: over 40 different tribes, Portuguese, Indian and Arab influence,  as well as its British colonial history. Many of the staple foods from Kenya were actually imported by colonizers, and these foods are generally less nutritious than the indigenous foods that became marginalized by the introduction of cash crops. Yet Kenya has made this food its own, and food is a means to express cultural pride and resilience despite it’s long history of oppression. As a group, we grappled with the role of food in expressing cultural pride here in the U.S., and explored how food can be used as a form of control. As the discussion evolved, and we were left with some questions and thoughts to chew on:

How can food be used to "reclaim" culture?

The culture of home feels stronger when you are removed from home—we take our culture for granted when we are living in it everyday.
Why should Americans appreciate a cuisine in order for immigrants to feel pride in their culture? Is it the act of sharing, or offering it to someone outside or someone at a a higher social level?

We look forward to our next meal in October!
Check out our new video featuring Angelica Hernandez, 2014 alumna, as she tells the story about learning to cook tamales from her grandfather at the age of 8 in Mexico!

"If you are cooking with love, with passion for what you are doing, that for me is the secret ingredient."

As I signed up to be a part of the Undergraduate Community Based Internship Pilot Program through the Carlson Center at UW I was not sure what my work would entail.  With so much to learn I was very excited and eager to be placed in a community non-profit organization. My internship experience with Project Feast was more rewarding than I anticipated, I got to work closely with people who are passionate about their work and embody the professionalism I wish to seek in my own career.

My work with Project Feast varied, I was able to learn more about the benefits of social networking, learn how to write newsletters and contributed to a crowdfunding campaign. I was also able to meet some of the participants of Project Feast programs and see first-hand the support they have for the organization. The reciprocity between Project Feast and their participants is evident, and I can appreciate their close relationship.

Through my internship with Project Feast I learned how important it is to have values and work with a purpose. The work I completed gave me the opportunity to make a lot of my own decisions, but I always made sure I kept my values and guiding principles in mind. I practiced humility, responsibility and experienced what it means to be a community-driven organization. I will remember these experiences as I start my own career and use them as a tool to evaluate the job opportunities I seek in the future.

Most importantly my internship experience allowed me to form a number of relationships with mentors that offered me guidance and insight regarding my undergraduate experience, graduate plans and career aspirations.

I learned about the refugee and immigrant community of South King County, experienced new cuisine and identified the assets of my very own SeaTac community.

Thank you to the Carlson Center for the opportunity and to Project Feast for having me.

Andrea Sanchez-Zavala