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Too many cooks in the kitchen? Au contraire

These social ventures are using good food to transform lives.

The job application has only one question: Do you know how to boil an egg?

Shedia Home, an eatery in central Athens opened in summer 2019, demonstrates that prior experience need not be a barrier to opportunity and that fine food need not be paired with pretention. Older adults without previous culinary experience (beyond egg boiling, that is) prepare a menu designed by Lefteris Lazarou, the first Greek chef to be awarded a Michelin star.

Shedia Home is an offshoot project of Shedia street magazine, sold by unemployed and homeless residents of Athens. The café-bar-restaurant doubles as a gallery for Shedia Art, a project through which specially trained Shedia vendors upcycle leftover copies of the publication into new creations—from lampshades, to bowls, to holiday ornaments—and as the starting point for the organization’s “Invisible Tours” of Athens.

Though the mission of providing opportunities for employment and social advancement is fundamental to Shedia Home, the organization’s goal for people to come to the eatery simply because the food is delicious.

The same is true of É UM RESTAURANTE in Lisbon, as emphasized by its name, which translates to “It’s a Restaurant.” Yes, it’s a social venture seeking to provide opportunity to those who work there, but, first and foremost, it’s a restaurant!

The staff at É UM RESTAURANTE, which opened in fall 2019 serving a menu designed by Brazilian-born chef Nuno Bergonse, have all experienced homelessness at some point. It’s a project of Crescer Na Maior - Associação de Intervenção Comunitária, which works to integrate vulnerable populations into their communities, including through employment opportunities and socially valued activities like restauration.

Women & Top Chefs in France also seeks to create paths to social advancement through food, passing through the unexpected territory of haute cuisine, but does so through a training-based, rather than restaurant-based, model. Each year, 12 women gain tools for attaining economic self-sufficiency by training with chefs in the finest kitchens around, while also having access to coaching and assistance with housing and childcare. 

The program, run by Association Départ’s La Table de Cana organization, is the brainchild of Alain Ducasse, one of the most prolifically Michelin starred chefs in the world. Since originating in Marseilles, it has spread to Bordeaux, Montpellier, Nice, Paris, Pays d’Arles, and Strasbourg.

A full quarter of program alumnae, according to the organization, go on to start their own businesses in the restaurant and catering industries. One alumna, Mejda Al-Ibrahim, was an engineer by trade, but when her family left Syria to seek refuge in France, she applied to take part in Women & Top Chefs. After completing the program, Medja and her family opened a restaurant, Ashourya, in Marseilles in 2017.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) has supported these and a variety of other food-based social empowerment projects in recent years. These include Hot Bread Kitchen’s paid culinary training program in New York City, creating “woman breadwinners,” and Asociacion Cultural Norte Joven’s social catering program in Madrid, where students gain culinary skills while providing meals to families in vulnerable situations. Because food is fundamental and universal, many other SNF grantees support—directly or indirectly—food-based social ventures, from the New Agriculture for a New Generation program led by Rutgers University to the International Rescue Committee.

We asked Shedia Home, É UM RESTAURANTE, and Women & Top Chefs to share a favorite recipe fitting for the season from their part of the world. Heads up: these recipes may be a tad more complicated than boiling an egg, but are guaranteed to be more delicious. Enjoy!

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