Refugee Restaurant Week Brings Unexpected Flavors to Boise Area 

Local and refugee chefs partner up to offer international cuisine at Boise restaurants

click to enlarge - Chefs Whitley (left) and Dah Bu Soe (right) will team up at The Modern. -  - THE MODERN HOTEL & BAR
  • The Modern Hotel & Bar
  • Chefs Whitley (left) and Dah Bu Soe (right) will team up at The Modern.

Here are a few things diners typically won’t find on the menu at The Modern Hotel & Bar: cloud ear mushroom salad with prawns, beef sirloin with lemongrass, coconut rice and grilled bok choy. Next week, however, is the exception to the rule. Thanks to an initiative called Refugee Restaurant Week, Burmese chef Dah Bu Soe will have his native Karen cuisine on the menu alongside Chef Nate Whitley’s American fare Monday-Sunday, Oct. 9-15.

“One of the goals of the event is to promote awareness of refugees in Boise and all of the skills that they’re bringing to the community,” said Kara Fink, the outreach and partnership manager for Idaho Office for Refugees, which started Refugee Restaurant Week in 2016. “A lot of people don’t necessarily get back into their career or their line of work once they’re resettled here, at least not right off the bat, so we’re hoping this [will be] an opportunity for them to share their passion with other chefs and cooks around the community.”

The idea for Refugee Restaurant Week was sparked when Fink read about the Refugee Food Festival in Paris—a similar event that paired eight local restaurants with refugee chefs in 2016. In Boise, the event started small last year with two pairings, but has since doubled in size. Participating restaurants include The Modern (Chefs Whitley and Dah Bu Soe), Grit American Cuisine (Chefs Paul Faucher and Ratna Subba of Nepal), The Hyde House (Chefs Raylene Ward and Hussein Jumaah of Iraq) and The STIL (Chefs Elena Gallina and Najlaa Omar of Syria).

click to enlarge - Chef Jumaah shops for ingredients with The Hyde House Co-owner Dillon Monteith. -  - THE HYDE HOUSE
  • The Hyde House
  • Chef Jumaah shops for ingredients with The Hyde House Co-owner Dillon Monteith.
The chefs will plate up their cuisine on staggered days over the course of the week, so every Boisean will have an opportunity to taste them all. At Hyde House, for example, Chef Jumaah will serve chicken and shrimp biryani, a Middle Eastern rice dish, for lunch Tuesday-Thursday, Oct. 10-12, and white bean curry with lamb for dinner Friday, Oct. 13, while Chef Najlaa’s Syrian-inspired ice cream—made with rosewater, orange blossom water and pistachio—will be on the menu at The STIL the whole week following a Monday, Oct. 9, debut.

Each restaurant will provide menu inserts or flyers with photos of the chefs together, background information on the guest chef and an explanation of the food on offer. In addition to being refugee-made, some of the produce for each dish will be refugee-grown, sourced from refugee farmers in the IOR Global Gardens Refugee Agriculture Program.

“We’re hoping that everyone will see [the menu inserts] when they come in, and that they sit down and decide to try something new, and then taste this amazing food…and come away with an appreciation for that dish, for the person who made it and for the culture that it might have come from,” said Fink.

Three of the local chefs are new to the program, but Chef Faucher of Grit participated last year and is fast becoming a regular fixture in the refugee food scene. He got his first taste of cooking with refugees 10 years ago when he partnered up with Katie Painter (now project coordinator for Global Gardens) on a benefit for refugees from Somalia.

click to enlarge - Chefs Ratna Subba (left) and Paul Faucher (right) pose at Grit with a Refugee Restaurant Week poster. -  - GRIT AMERICAN CUISINE
  • Grit American Cuisine
  • Chefs Ratna Subba (left) and Paul Faucher (right) pose at Grit with a Refugee Restaurant Week poster.

“These Somalis—we were doing goat—they literally dropped this dead goat in a garbage bag at my front door,” said Faucher, laughing at the memory. “So I made goat stew. They don’t use flour [in Somali cooking], so they thickened it with peanut butter and I learned that technique, which was pretty cool.”

Faucher’s fascination with other cultures and their cuisine—specifically those that you don’t often hear about in culinary school—made Grit a perfect partner for Refugee Restaurant Week. Last year he worked with Chef Jumaah, and this year he will open his kitchen to Chef Subba, who will be serving up pork momos (a traditional Nepalese dumpling), fried okra, and Nepali-style chicken chow mein from the Grit kitchen during dinner hour Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 12-14.

“We’ll help him out, get to know about his culture, get to know about his cuisine, why he’s doing certain things to the dish. It’s all going to be made in house, and it’s just a whole team effort, everyone in the restaurant will participate,” Faucher said.

He admitted he’s curious to see what kind of spin the Nepalese put on chow mein, which is typically a Chinese dish.

“I can’t wait to watch all this stuff get put together,” Faucher said.

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