Melon radish from Iran, tuna with fennel and pear from Algeria, a carrot dessert from Nepal: these are all recipes from the "New Neighbors" cookbook. In it, refugee chefs present favorite dishes from their home countries.
The idea for this special cookbook came from a Berlin restaurant critic – and was put into practice by star chef Tony Hohfeld. By cooking various dishes together with seven refugee colleagues.
Interviewer:How did you find your multi-culti guest chefs in the first place??
Tony Hohlfeld: Via several paths. On the one hand, we put it out to tender, approached the advisors at the various drop-in centers for refugees here in Hanover and the surrounding area and asked; "Are there any cooks among the people here??"And in fact, it was difficult at first to find out whether they were really cooks. Because at that time, many people did not speak much German. But once we had everyone together, it went relatively smoothly.
Interviewer: And when the cooking crew had been decided – what happened next??
Hohlfeld: We then looked at what we were doing for recipes, what was typical for each country, what is really cooked in the individual countries? And then we gave the people the freedom to choose what they would like to do and we accompanied them. And then it started. We then made appointments at the cooking school, got the products and they showed us what they were cooking.
Interviewer: You mentioned the communication problems – how did you solve them in the end??
Tony Hohlfeld: First of all, we worked a lot with showing; after all, an onion looks the same in Syria as it does in Germany. Besides, the German language skills of our cooks were already advanced when we really started the project. After all, they all attend courses; that went then. And when they lost their initial nervousness, they also became more open and dared more. We all know that from ourselves, how it goes with foreign languages-
Interviewer: "Many cooks spoil the broth" – we always say so. But in your case that was not the case, was it?? Then how many people did you stand with in the training kitchen??
Hohlfeld: There were four of us. Someone has to write down the recipe, the restaurant critic Kroth, someone from the publishing house and me. And when the recipes were ready, we took them to the canteens – at Volkswagen, at MTU, for the airport. There we let the cooks be then times correctly cooks. They were then allowed to cook for 250 employees and present their work. And where better to bring their work to the people than in these canteens?
Interviewer:Actually we always say "Many cooks spoil the broth". Not so with you?
Hohlfeld: No, not at all. We always met with the cooks individually and cooked with them. That's when everyone was able to live out what they wanted to cook. I just accompanied them a little bit, made sure we also got the pictures for the book. But the recipes, they are really completely from these refugees.
Interviewer:What did you learn while cooking together
Hohlfeld: I have learned a lot. For example, that we should approach these people openly, even if there is a language barrier. I have only met good-hearted people who really like to cook and would present that here in Germany. I have not experienced anyone who did not want to integrate. And I believe that our experience is also important for the rest of the country.
Interviewer:Your conclusion: Do people in countries that are exotic to us cook in a fundamentally different way??
Hohlfeld: They cook with different spices and relatively different tastes. For example, they focus more on spiciness, use a bit more cumin, and often use products that you can get here but often don't get as much attention, like manjok roots or ladies' fingers (okra). These are already other flavors.
Interviewer:Did you personally also make discoveries?
Hohlfeld: Quite. For example, we made a lamb stew with curry and these ladies' fingers and manjok – and I have already cooked it myself at home.
Interviewer:Were you spoiled for choice when it came to choosing the recipes for the book??
Hohlfeld: What we did before. We looked beforehand to make sure the book reflected a certain range. We just let out prescriptions from me…
Interviewer:So the refugee cooks are now represented in the book with their recipes. Has the project perhaps also given one or two of them a job??
Hohlfeld: In fact, all those involved now have a job. Many will do an apprenticeship again, one will start a course of study. Others started directly in canteens. More than twelve months have passed since the beginning of the project, so the language barrier has also fallen a bit. And when potential employers see "Aha, he's involved in a project that's turned out well," their inhibitions drop as well.
The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.