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Seven cooks, seven countries, one great food idea

A catering business and restaurant with seven migrant cooks from seven countries has been set up by two friends who met at business school.

Sébastien Prunier and Louis Jacquot were set for standard business careers – Sébastien in finance and Louis in marketing and web design – but they were not happy.

Louis said: “We were disappointed with the reality of the work. We would talk about doing something else. I am a keen cook, which is why we thought of the food business.

“There was a lot of fuss from anti-immigrant people about the TV pictures of the Syrian migrants, so we thought of how food always brings people together. The idea was born.”

They spoke to groups working with migrants about finding cooks for Les Cuistots Migrateurs, and since starting in 2016 they have hired seven cooks from seven countries.

Now they have catering contracts and a buffet lunch restaurant Le Hasard Ludique in the old Paris Saint-Ouen railway station in the 18th arrondissement.

At first, Louis was the chef, but last year they recruited a friend with 15 years in the restaurant business to take over, allowing him to join Sébastien on the business side.

The staff all start on short-term contracts but are due to switch to permanent ones.

Louis said: “Unlike some schemes, which work with migrants for three-month projects, we aim to give a proper French employment contract because we know how important it is for finding somewhere to live and to get in the system. Selection is professional. We give tests, ask them to make a dish from home and judge if their French or English is good enough to work in a team.”

The cooks all have refugee status or other papers to work in France. None was a prof-essional cook before starting.

Their countries of origin are Syria (Faaeq does falafels and houmous), Iran (Rashid is a rice specialist), Ethiopia (Sarah makes curries and injera pancakes), Nepal (Bishnu does momo dumplings and sauces), Chechnya (Fariza makes rose-shaped raviolis), Afghanistan (Azim is a falafel specialist) and Senegal (Babs adapts African dishes).

Louis said many recipes are “based on home cooking, which gives a freshness sometimes lacking from restaurant dishes”.

The chef looks at the cooks’ recipe ideas and together they see how to source ingredients and how to present the dish.

Usually all the spices in the refugee food can be used in France, except for chillies, so they cut back and find options.

Reaction so far has been good.

“Most people come because they like food and like experimenting with something new,” said Louis.  “Obviously showing solidarity with migrants is there too, but they know there are other ways of doing that.”

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