How chefs are using food and supper clubs to respond to global tragedies
Food. It nourishes our demanding bodies, reminds us of the nostalgic home and people we once shared it with; and it is the rope that ties us to our cultural identity. We are served generous portions of it by our local curry restaurant, and we serve it proudly from our own kitchens to our friends and loved ones.
But food serves a greater purpose. It is more than a rope to connect us to our culture or our neighbours, it is a fishing net to collect and draw us all together. Food brings us to the table to share our cultures, our stories, and our pain.
"Food is essential for our survival. As such, eating is the one activity that unites us as humans. And when you go back to what makes us quintessentially human, you realise the power that food has on our culture and mindsets," said Olivia Sibony, co-founder of Grub Club.
Grub Club is a start-up company in the heart of London that connects chefs to venues, to host supper-club-style events all around the city. Founded by two food and travel loving friends, Grub Club aims to recreate the intimate dining experiences from London to Zanzibar through supper clubs hosted by creative chefs.
"Creating a platform that enables people to partake in amazing dining experiences which will leave a lasting impression is a fundamental way in which we can connect with our own humanity and become closer to those around us," said Sibony.
Besides uniting people at the table, chefs have employed the communal environment of these supper clubs to raise awareness of and try to alleviate, in a small way, the pain of tragedies across the world.
Together with Grub Club and 15 Hatfields, the founder of Latitudinal Cuisine Alex Haw raised £25,000 for Nepal after the devastating earthquake in 2015 that left 8,617 dead and 2.8 million displaced. The event for 100 people came together in just 10 days, including a raffle and auction with prizes donated from Faction Skis, Angel Investment Network and Lesa Green Jewellery. But the spotlight shined on the Nepali traditional food.
"Hosting dinners is the best way of raising funds because I believe food brings people together. That way, the guests will be able to enjoy the night while raising funds," said Rajiv, host of Rajiv's Kitchen.
Another champion of this idea, Conflict Café aims to promote peace through dialogue by serving food from countries suffering from violence and conflict. This pop-up café alternates cuisine each week inspired by Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Columbia, and Nepal. They will soon announce their new dates for September here.
""Peace begins with dialogue, and what better way to get a conversation started than over food?" said Ilaria Bianchi, Head of Communications at International Alert, the charity led by Conflict Café.
"At Conflict Cafe we weave the history of countries that have been affected by violent conflict - and the peacebuilding efforts to resolve them - into the fabric of each delicious meal. It's a way to bring Londoners, who are often far removed from the realities of conflict, together and engage them in conversations about food, and subsequently the cultures behind it," said Bianchi.
But perhaps no supper club has experienced more growth and success than the Syrian Supper Club. What began as three friends hosting a Syrian-inspired meal from their London kitchen in 2012, The Syrian Supper Club now hosts an authentic dinner every first Wednesday of the month at E5 Bakehouse in London Fields.
Their 75 meals have touched over 2,500 hungry and supportive guests from London to Singapore to Washington D.C., and they have raised over £100,000 for aid in and around Syria through the Hands Up Foundation.
"By doing something as simple as going out to dinner and sharing food you have the power to change someone's life or perhaps even save it - which is a pretty wonderful thing," said Rose Lukas, "Chief of Words" for The Syrian Supper Club.
Wonderful, powerful, and still needed.
After the recent tragedy in Orlando, FL, marking the deadliest shooting in U.S. history, questions of what could have been done and what to do now echo in the heads and hearts of all those who read about the shooting. If the deaths of 49 people at a gay nightclub early Sunday morning call us to action, what action can we take to truly change our world?
Supporting local LGBTQ organizations or simply checking in with your LGBTQ friends are two small ways we can all make a difference in our local and global communities. Even better: gather your friends and loved ones together for a dinner to celebrate Gay Pride and to raise money for the victims and their families at the GoFundMe page organized by Equality Florida.
Although we cannot fight bullets with saffron and falafel, food's starts the conversation toward ending the violence plaguing this world we share.