• 15 AUG 17
    • 0

    Dreaming in the kitchen

    Anyone who has seen a reality television cooking program will be familiar with the concept of the ‘food dream’. The food dream is the encapsulation of a contestant’s ambition and becomes an official part of his or her story or ‘journey’. But for two amateur cooks working at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s social enterprise, ASRC Catering, food is a stepping stone to other dreams.

    As part of a team of around twenty cooks employed on a casual basis, Hiba* and Janvier* have both worked at the North Fitzroy kitchen of ASRC Catering for more than two years. They undertake a variety of tasks including food preparation, driver delivery, and front-of-house staffing at functions. But their real dreams extend beyond the kitchen.

    Hiba, who arrived from Africa in 2013, dreams of studying and establishing a coffee roasting business. She has a background in office administration and marketing. “I have two plans,” she explains. “I am sure I have to study. At the same time I need to do my own business, even if it’s small. I can start small. I studied business and my family were in business. But for business I need some capital and to get that I still have to do other jobs.”

    Arriving a year later in 2014, Janvier, also from Africa, trained as an accountant before reaching Australia. “Since I was a kid I dreamt of being an accountant,” he says. “I had a fight with my family because they wanted me to do science in high school, and I wanted to do accounting. But I said to them, ‘This is my life.’ And I did accounting. I like dealing with numbers. It’s what I love to do.” Even though he gained a relevant degree in Africa, he is undertaking the CPA program through CPA Australia to enhance his qualifications and career prospects locally.

    Janvier cannot afford to attend accounting classes so he is completing the program on his own volition, reading his subject study guides and returning for exams as required. He is philosophical about this approach. “When life is tough, you have to be tough,” he states. “I read, and I explain it to myself. It just requires discipline.”

    ASRC Catering provides enough financial security and flexibility for Hiba and Janvier to pursue their dreams. It also offers plenty of scope for them to gain skills in different aspects of the business, but at the same time it is structured in such a way that it caters to the individual strengths of its cooks. For Hiba, she nominates the preparation of salads and serving coffee as her preferred jobs.

    “I like coffee functions because people love my coffee,” she says.

    Janvier, who likes interacting with customers, enjoys attending functions most, but recognises his kitchen skills have improved substantially since he arrived. “I didn’t cook back home, so I had to learn everything from scratch,” he explains.

    “I’m learning skills I can use at home to get food on the table too.” When he is in the kitchen his favoured item to prepare and cook is pizza. “I think everyone in the kitchen likes to do whatever they like to eat. So I like making pizza because, of course, I like pizzas.”

    They have both worked at various other casual jobs since arriving in Australia: Hiba as an assistant in a science laboratory, and Javier in hospitality and finance. But ASRC Catering has been their employment mainstay, and allowed them to pursue their longer-term plans. Both agree ASRC Catering provides a good working environment for them. As Janvier remarks, “The people are nice and I love doing it.”

    Hiba says she is “lucky” because she was granted permanent residency at the end of 2014 with the assistance of an ASRC lawyer. But she misses her family and country. “I love my country. It is not stable. But I still love my country. One day I will go back for a visit,” she says. On the other hand, Janvier is on a bridging visa and still awaiting a hearing at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal following the rejection of his original application for residency. Speaking of his life in Africa, he says,

    “It was not an easy situation to live in. You lived your daily life with fear. You know, hiding yourself. Trying all the means to leave the country without any proper way. It was challenging. You lived your life where you didn’t see any tomorrow.”

    Both now live in Melbourne separated from family and their culture but at least with a stronger sense of tomorrow.

    “I don’t know many people, but when you go anywhere you can find a good smile. It means for me, ‘welcome’,” Hiba says. “I love Bourke Street. Everywhere you can see different entertainment, and music. Sometimes I go there, I have coffee, and I meet friends. You don’t feel lonely even if you are alone.”

    Janvier, too, despite the uncertainty of his residency status, says Melbourne has given him the chance to study and work again, and he values it for its stability and the diversity of its cultures.

    ASRC Catering is a not-for-profit social enterprise of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, who offer global food experiences, with a cause. When you choose ASRC Catering for your function or event, you are also helping to empower people seeking asylum in our community. Visit catering.asrc.org.au

    The work of the ASRC to support and empower over 3,000 people seeking asylum each year would not be possible without the support of you – our community. Champion positive change for people seeking asylum by making a tax-deductible donation today.

    Photos by Kishka Phillips

    *Pseudonyms have been used to protect the subjects’ identities.

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