Refugee chefs cooking up a storm at Dublin Michelin Star Restaurant

Over 20 chefs took part in the Refugee Food Festival Ireland, which gives refugees and asylum-seekers an opportunity to show off their skills in Ireland's booming restaurant sector


Róisín Gillen and Reem al-Hammoud serving food at Heron & Grey during the 2018 Irish Refugee Food Festival  © UNHCR


When Reem al-Hammoud arrived on the Macedonian border, she found herself in a forest with no shelter, no cookware or any of the basic materials and infrastructure you’d expect to find in a refugee camp.

“So I took to cooking.”

Turning to the volunteers who were serving soup to the 1,000-1,500 people camped there, she cut an oil drum in half, flipping it over to create an oven and bake the Syrian flat bread she used to make at home.

“I used to help my brother in his restaurant back in Syria. But I didn’t expect that I would use my skills to cook for refugees living in camps.”

Together with 22 refugee chefs and bakers, Reem is one of the participants in the Irish Refugee Food Festival taking place across 16 restaurants and food businesses in Ireland. Kitchens open their doors to refugees and in exchange they give their time to share their skills.

Chefs and bakers from a number of different countries, including Iraq, Syria and Zimbabwe work in some of Ireland’s most innovative food businesses, giving customers the opportunity to sample signature dishes from around the world.

For Reem, it meant working alongside the award winning team in Heron & Grey, a Michelin Star Restaurant in Blackrock, Dublin.  

Together with chefs Mohammad and Zeineb, also from Syria, she prepared a 7 course meal that touched on every part of Syrian culinary heritage. Vine leaves and Kubba, a delicately batted croquette stuffed with lamb, sit alongside other Syrian favourite, including Halawa bil jibn, a sweet cheese and Reem’s own specialty, Kabsa chicken, her mother’s favourite.


The first dish my mother taught me to cook was Kabsa, cooking it means a lot to me.


The team of Syrians worked with the head chef and his team to decide on a menu, a task they took to with glee.


Damien Grey, Reem al-Hammoud, Róisín Gillen, Zeineb Alabdallah, Mohammed Alshabib, Maisa Alhariri and Andrew Heron during the Irish Refugee Food Festival 2018  © Razan Ibraheem


“This is my first chef experience in Ireland. I want to open my own restaurant here,” Mohammad says. What would they call it?

“The Irish Syrian Restaurant” laughs his wife Zeineb.

For the restaurant industry, it’s an opportunity to highlight gaps in a rapidly expanding industry. According to the Irish restaurant sector, the Irish economy needs 7,000 chefs in order to address shortfalls in staffing.

For Heron & Grey, it is also an opportunity to simply support refugees.

“I just want to help a fellow human being, that’s all”, says Damien Grey, the head chef.

“They’ve been put in a situation that’s not their fault and they just need a helping hand.”