We’re thrilled to launch Harvest Wednesdays by inviting cooks from Newcomer Kitchen to prepare a traditional Syrian meal incorporating local Canadian produce from our long-time partners Chick-a-biddy farms CSA. Newcomer Kitchen is a project that invites newly-arrived Syrian refugee women to cook a weekly meal at the Depanneur, a local favourite on College Street West. The meals are then sold for pick-up and delivery and the proceeds are shared amongst the women.
As you can see in the video, the idea started informally in March of 2016, when the Depanneur’s owner Len Senater discovered many Syrian refugees were being housed temporarily in Toronto-area hotels without access to kitchens to cook for their families. So far removed from their homeland torn apart by civil war, he wanted to offer them his kitchen and a semblance of the community and identity they had in Syria. It’s since turned into an entrepreneurial community project he hopes can be replicated in restaurants and kitchens across the world. We caught up with Len to ask a few questions about Newcomer Kitchen’s upcoming Harvest Table Dinner on Aug 24 in the Ballroom (Tickets are available on Eventbrite here).
Why was it so important to you to give the Syrian community a place to cook?
Much of the culinary knowledge, wisdom and tradition of Syria is not owned by restaurants or celebrity chefs or cooking shows but by the mothers and grandmothers who cook the recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation and from region to region. There are millions of people in diaspora and if they don’t have an opportunity to continue to make the dishes they’ve always made–all of that information, knowledge and wisdom is in jeopardy. So a big part of what Newcomer Kitchen seeks to do is encourage, validate and give the women a place where they can continue to make their dishes and express their culture and traditions.
Harvest Wednesdays is all about sustainability and connecting with the natural rhythm of our growing season. How does Syrian cuisine support this concept?
Embedded in Syrian cuisine are age old traditions that are built around sustainability and agricultural wisdom. As Canadians, we can learn a lot about how food is harvested, prepared and enjoyed in Syria. If we can figure out how to listen to what they’ve done for centuries, we will be much better off. They bring an incredible amount of knowledge and we need it now more than ever.
For the Harvest Table Dinner, the cooks will be preparing four courses with local and seasonal ingredients from our Chick-a-biddy Acres C.S.A. box. What do you think that will be like for them?
Syrian cuisine is traditionally responsive and adaptive to what’s in season and what is growing. The culinary traditions have emerged from exactly that history–which is using what you grow yourself. I believe that within this community of cooks, there is an enormous diversity of knowledge and skill. They are happy to embrace whatever the season and local Harvest offers—whether it’s in Syria or Canada. There may be some new ingredients they will see and haven’t tried before but they are incredibly talented cooks. I think they’re going to have a lot of fun with the ingredients that come in the day before the dinner!
Thanks Len! We can’t wait to have Newcomer Kitchen in 2 weeks. This is a Harvest Table you won’t want to miss! Not only is a great opportunity to enjoy delicious food and try something new, you will also hear from Len and the women who prepared your meal and you will experience and support this incredible economic and social opportunity. Tickets available here.
Check out all of our Harvest Wednesday Events to experience the Gladstone’s food philosophy and the natural rhythm of Ontario’s growing season. Each week between Aug 24 and Oct 12, Gladstone Hotel’s Chef Katie Venables-Lloyd will collaborate with guests chefs including Chris McDonald, Bob Blumer, Brandon Olsen and Newcomer Kitchen! See the full list of Harvest Wednesday schedule + tickets here.