(20 Jun 2016) LEAD IN:
Refugee chefs in Paris are demonstrating their culinary skills at a five-day food event.
The Refugee Food Festival has been set up to mark World Refugee Day.
Mohamad Al Khaldy is doing what he does best: cooking.
He’s at a restaurant in Paris’s 19th arrondissement preparing food for hundreds of people.
It’s a mix of French dishes and cuisine from his homeland of Syria.
The evening is part of the Refugee Food Festival, a five-day event where refugees cook for hungry diners across Paris.
Al Khaldy fled Damascus with his wife and children after the war broke out and tried to start a new life in Egypt.
But they struggled to survive so decided to move to Europe.
It meant taking the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea which has claimed the lives of thousands of other refugees.
“750 persons in a small boat, and 12 days in the sea without food without drink, it was very terrible,” remembers Al Khaldy.
Back home, Al Khaldy was a famous chef who appeared on television programmes and ran several restaurants.
But it’s been five years since he’s cooked professionally.
He hopes to be able to return to that career in the near future.
“I think it’s my passion to be a chef. Not a normal chef, I need that some day as soon as possible I will open my restaurant. I will serve my food, the Syrian food, but my way,” he says.
And he’s getting a taste of life back in the kitchen thanks to the Refugee Food Festival.
It’s the brainchild of Marine Mandrila and Louis Martin.
They’ve travelled the world sampling local cuisine and decided to set up this event to give a positive voice to the refugees who have travelled to their country.
“There is a lot of negative speech, stress, around their arrival in France,” says Martin.
“And because of that we are forgetting that those people are like you, like me, who have abilities, expertise, know-how, lots of things to bring to the French society.”
Mandrila says French cuisine has become “richer through the centuries” due to the influence of foreigners.
With tonight’s menu finalised, hungry Parisians have begun descending on the venue.
A total of eleven restaurants are hosting events like this during the festival, with eight different refugee chefs showing off their culinary skills.
The festival is being staged with the help of the UNHCR and Les Cuistots Migrateurs (The Migratory Cook), an organisation which helps refugees to get cooking again.
And tonight’s food is a hit with the diners.
“We wanted to have great food, in a place that we did not know, and which is actually very nice. So we are really happy about it,” says Aimee who is eating here with a friend.
And Al Khaldy is happy too.
It’s a good feeling to be working as a chef again.
The Refugee Food Festival runs until 21 June.
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