Hummus, refugees, New York City, food and HOME. Eat Offbeat is all that and more.
Since November 2015 Eat Offbeat has been challenging New Yorkers taste buds with a new food fare that covers a range of cuisines and traditional dishes that only refugee chefs from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and Nepal could make. For these refugee chefs, HOME is associated with homemade food, and at Eat Offbeat they’ve been generously sharing it with others. New Yorkers who’ve eaten Eat Offbeat at private parties or business functions have come back for more and more.
It all started when Manal Kahi and her brother Wissam Kahi couldn’t find hummus that tasted anything remotely close to what grandma makes back HOME in Lebanon. Manal started making her own homemade chickpea dip based on her grandma’s recipe. It became all the rage at dinner parties, and among colleagues and friends. Wissam insisted that Manal’s amazing hummus should be marketed.
There was something else that weighed on Manal’s conscience more than the lack of good hummus in New York. “In 2013, when I left Lebanon to start my masters degree at Columbia, the Syrian refugee crisis had hit its peak. I had always felt that I wanted to do something about it. I had to do something,” explains Manal. Seeing the necessity of homemade food and doing something to help refugees inspired Manal and Wissam to realize Eat Offbeat. “Instead of just making hummus we thought that we could introduce a variety of foods,” says Manal. “That’s when we thought of employing refugees as chefs.” Eat Offbeat’s food service provides a variety of cuisines to parties of ten or more people. It affiliates with the International Rescue Committee of New York in order to seek outpotential employees, refugees who cook traditional food and more importantly who are passionate about cooking. “Because refugees have no HOME to go back to, food is an important connection to their HOME,” says Manal. Working as chefs, refugees have an opportunity to share a part of themselves and their culture. It also provides them with a steady income and helps them adjust to their newly adopted HOME.
The refugee chefs and Juan Suarez de Lezo, a three star Michelin chef, and third partner in Eat Offbeat, make the kitchen come alive with upbeat activity and savory aromas. While chefs create the traditional dishes Juan guides them on how to work and function in a larger kitchen generating larger portions. “Juan makes minor adjustments to the dishes, making sure the flavors are balanced, and ensuring that they’re appropriate for large parties,” relates Manal. She compares walking into Eat Offbeat’s kitchen to preparing for a Sunday meal in Lebanon. She admits that it’s sometimes stressful because of the number of orders but the vibe is always positive.
Manal and Wissam realize that New Yorkers actually benefit most from this culinary cultural experience. New York was a great birthplace for Eat Offbeat because it is an epicenter for cultural and culinary diversity. No restaurant, caterer or food service in New York offers such a variety of authentic homemade dishes. Eat Offbeat started out as an endeavour to help refugees but became a refuge for people who love good food and aren’t afraid to try new fare. “People come to Eat Offbeat because of the mission but those who come back always come back for the food.” Some of the most popular dishes are Iraqi deep fried Potato Kibbe stuffed with meat, Manchurian a Nepalese dish of fried cauliflower with sweet sauce, and an Armenian Iraqi salad made of bulgur, tomato and drizzled with pomegranate syrup. Hummus and Tabbouleh are requested at almost every meal served. “When I see the hummus, tabbouleh, kibbe and bulgur I’m reminded of HOME,” admits Manal, “but to be totally honest, when I walk into the kitchen at Eat Offbeat I am at home. This is my HOME.”
Although Eat Offbeat is still in its early stages, its business is in full bloom, and is expected to blossom even more. Manal, Wissam, Juan and the Eat Offbeat team are looking to gain a stronger foothold in New York, and define a clear model for the company. Once that is accomplished then Eat Offbeat will likely branch out to other cities where foodies and adventurous eaters dwell.
To find out more about Eat Offbeat or place an order visit their website: eatoffbeat.com