The Refugee Food Festival captivated restaurant goers in Copenhagen

For the past four years, restaurants around the world have opened their kitchens to refugee chefs during the Refugee Food Festival, and this year, the festival reached the Danish capital.

Syrian chef Zaki Abarra was welcomed by Beau, head chef at ILUKA, during the Refugee Food Festival. ©Hannah Kraus

Tables were sold out when the Refugee Food Festival made its debut in Copenhagen, offering restaurant goers an array of flavors and gastronomic innovations designed by chefs with refugee backgrounds. 

Five very different restaurants welcomed refugee chefs into their kitchens to raise awareness of the refugees’ individual resources and talents, while celebrating gastronomy as a common denominator that brings people together across borders, nationalities and cultures.

The Refugee Food Festival began in Paris in 2016 as a citizen-led initiative, run by the French non-profit organization Food Sweet Food, with the support of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Since then, the initiative has taken off and spread internationally. This year the festival was held in 15 cities around the world—from London to New York, Cape Town to Paris, and for the first time, in the Danish capital. Every year, the event is scheduled to coincide with World Refugee Day on June 20.

Project coordinator, Nima Tisdall, organized the festival in Copenhagen with the help of Crossing Borders. She was pleasantly surprised by the commitment that the Danish restaurants showed and the interest of the local citizens.

“The interest has surpassed all expectations, considering this is the first time the festival is taking place in Copenhagen. We didn’t imagine sold-out restaurants across the board, and it has been fantastic to experience the collaboration between the restaurants and our refugee chefs.”

Birkemosegaard - Riccardo og Nabila ude

Birkemosegaard’s chef Riccardo and refugee chef Nabila select fresh produce to integrate into their menu for the Refugee Food Festival.

Birkemosegaard - Riccardo og Nabila

Nabila from Morocco and Riccardo, the chef at Birkemosegaard, created a five-course menu, based on Moroccan cuisine and fresh, seasonal produce.

For the Moroccan chef Nabila, for example, the collaboration with Riccardo, chef at the  organic eatery Birkemosegaard, meant an excursion to the restaurant’s farm in North Zealand. Here, they picked and collected fresh ingredients, which they transformed into a delicious Moroccan five-course menu.

Syrian chef Zaki opened his first restaurant when he was only 18, and has since refined his culinary repertoire after living in Syria, Cyprus, Italy and now Denmark. However, he was put to the test when paired with central Copenhagen restaurant ILUKA, which focuses mainly on seafood.

“We don’t do much fish in Syrian cuisine… But I love to throw myself into new things, and I always pay attention to details,” he explained. With ILUKA’s chef Beau and the restaurant manager Fanny, he composed an innovative menu with Nordic seafood, dressed in Syrian flavors and aromas.

Chefs Juan Manuel and Nabila concocted a fusion of Latin American and NoAfrican kitchens in their joint menu at Amazônia in Copenhagen. ©Martina Zemanova

At the restaurant Amazônia, North African cuisine merged with that of Latin American, while MADEINITALY indulged guests with vegan Syrian mezze, and the restaurant Ferment offered a three-course Thai menu.

The festival’s impact in the last few years shows that the event significantly enhances the guests’ views on refugees, and strengthens the integration of the refugee chefs. For instance, an analysis conducted by (IM)PROVE in January 2019 shows that 59 per cent of the participating chefs in past festivals have been offered at least one job opportunity after the Refugee Food Festival. 

“The feedback from both restaurants, chefs and guests has been incredibly positive. I hope that the Refugee Food Festival will not only be a one-time experience but will help create a ripple effect, bringing even more attention to the potential that refugees have and embracing everything that brings us together, rather than what separates us,” says project coordinator Nima Tisdall.

She is already looking forward to repeating the success next year in Copenhagen, where the Refugee Food Festival will hopefully grow even bigger.


RFF COPENHAGEN_2019_Iluka_Zaki ©Hannah Kraus-20

Syrian chef Zaki Abarra presents the menu to the guests at ILUKA. ©Hannah Kraus

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Guests enjoy the food at Amazônia during the Refugee Food Festival. ©Martina Zemanova

RFF COPENHAGEN_2019_Iluka_Zaki ©Hannah Kraus-2

Syrian chef Zaki Abarra and ILUKA’s head chef Beau collaborated on a menu featuring fish and shellfish with Syrian flavors. ©Hannah Kraus