Refugee and Chef Prepares a Meal and Answers Questions

As part of the Hunger Action Series, Chef Bashir cooked a meal while discussing his own journey.

Chef Bashir cooked saffron rice and dish made of potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. (Photo by Alexandria Johnson)

Szzz! The oil in the pan crackled as Chef Bashir welcomed questions while he performed a live cooking demonstration for 17 guests at the Puck Building on Friday.

The event titled “Refugees at the Intersection: Food and Stories” was part of last week’s Hunger Action Series. Share Meals organized the series with the goal of raising awareness of campus food insecurity. Started by Steinhardt graduate student Jon Chin, Share Meals features an app that allows students to give away extra meal swipes to those who may need them. Wagner Refugee Action Council, an advocacy group for refugees, and Eat Offbeat, an organization where chefs who are former refugees cook and cater food from their native countries, co-hosted the event with Share Meals.

An employee of Eat Offbeat, Bashir boiled saffron rice and fried a variety of vegetables, including okra, potatoes and eggplant using a mobile induction cooktop provided by Share Meals. Audience members asked questions to the Afghan refugee through his translator, Mehek Yousafzai, a current graduate student at NYU Wagner.

After Bashir finished chopping vegetables, an attendee asked him about how he got his start in cooking.

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“My dad was a famous chef in Afghanistan and he had his own catering business,” Bashir said. “When we went to family events, I used to assist my dad when I was little.”

Bashir credited his dad for teaching him about working hard when it comes to cooking.

“I’ve learned from my dad that it’s important to work hard and put my heart in everything I make,” Bashir said. “While I’ve experimented with the traditional style using different spices, it’s all about love and hard work.”

Before moving to New York a year ago, Bashir lived in Australia for six years. As a refugee, he went to the International Rescue Committee, which connected him to Eat Offbeat. After working on a trial basis, he accepted an offer to work there permanently.

After it was done cooking, Bashir placed a portion of the boiled rice on a clear-top table where everyone had the chance to taste it. Many of the guests liked the rice; one guest mentioned it was perfectly salted.

During the discussion section of the event, the audience tasted the saffron rice and vegetable dish Bashir prepared. Maureen Kantner, the chair of the Wagner Refugee Action Council, asked him about how moving to New York has changed how he makes his food.

“When I worked in Australia, people didn’t like salty or spicy food,” Bashir said. “In New York, people like more spice and salt, so I have to put a little more effort and love into presenting my food, so people enjoy it.”

Bashir referenced one of his dad’s sentiments when discussing his philosophy on food.

“If you have love and hard work in the right place, then I believe the food is meant to taste amazing in the end,” Bashir said.

Email Alexandria Johnson at [email protected]

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