Two Simon Fraser University students have created a business where immigrant women host cooking classes; gaining work experience while sharing their cultures.
Surrey resident Chantelle Buffie and New Westminster's Sonam Swarup - both in their early 20s - came up with Fusion Kitchen in a social entrepreneurship class at SFU.
"It was just natural for us to gravitate towards working with immigrant women. We have our own mothers, and our own families come from immigrant situations as well, and we both love food," Buffie said. "Food is the best medium where people connect and where the traditional barriers are broken down."
The classes are three-hour sessions, where the teacher talks about herself and her culture. She starts with a cooking demonstration of home-style authentic recipes. Some of the dishes have been chicken karahi (a popular chicken and tomato dish), aloo palak (potatoes and spinach), peas chana pulao (seasoned rice with chick peas) and mango lassi, a yogurt smoothie.
"We really emphasize the fact it's like having your own mother cook for you. When you are in Fusion Kitchen, it's like your mother's kitchen," Buffie said.
While some cooking classes are more about observing, Fusion Kitchen participants get handson experience making the meals, and everyone eats together.
Buffie and Swarup recruit the cooking class hosts through Mosaic, an immigrant settlement group.
"The immigrant organizations are really protective of these women because they don't want the women to be exploited," Buffie said.
To get around that, they spend time talking with the potential host to make sure she really wants to do it, Buffie added.
A portion of the revenue (roughly a third) goes to the chef, the rest covers expenses. It's a business for the two, not a charity, Buffie explains.
"Our long-term overall vision is really to decrease the barriers these women face in getting employment and integrating into Canada," Buffie said. "I'm just surprised it hasn't happened yet, because there is so much diversity in B.C., but no one has capitalized on this idea."
So far, there have been three Fusion Kitchen sessions with Shahnaz Afsar, a woman from Pakistan, but the students want to include more cultures and vegetarian options in the future.
Afsar has more than 25 years of teaching experience and owned her own school in her home country. Afsar enjoys leading the classes and earning money.
"Cooking is my passion, and I love to cook for the people, it makes the people stay together," Afsar said. "It's a very nice idea to put people together in one platform with different people and different countries. ... They are learning something from me, that is good for me."
Buffie also commented on Afsar's passion for cooking.
"She just loves cooking and has a real passion for it. Coming to Canada, she tried to get credentials and the certification she needs, but it's been two-and-a-half years, and she still hasn't been able to get (a Canadian job)," Buffie said. "A lot of the women approaching us have a lot of experience and education credentials. It just blows me away that they can't get jobs here."
For Buffie, Fusion Kitchen offers immigrant women a place to build self-confidence, a chance to connect with their communities and an opportunity to learn transferable skills for the Canadian job market.
"We do try to teach them skills they don't necessarily have, but it's also about connecting them with people outside their communities," she said.
The classes have all taken place in Vancouver and cost $40 to $65 a session.
As far as the business side goes, Buffie is still working her day job, but she would like Fusion Kitchen to become a fulltime project.
"Just being in the class has helped me realize my passion, just really wanting to help people and using business to do so," she said.
The next class will likely be in September. Visit www.fusion kitchen.com for updates.