LOS ANGELES — Finding a way to create flavorful food was a task Toma Sebit often took on back home in Kenya.
“I learned from my mom and my older sisters. I came from a big family. So you always have to be in the kitchen. You have no choice,” she said.
Over time she learned to love making all kinds of Kenyan food. On this particular day, she was creating a four-dish menu for Flavors From Afar, a social enterprise restaurant with the Tiyya Foundation that puts authentic recipes from refugees on a rotating menu. An opportunity Sebit looked forward to sharing.
“Not too many people like to give their recipes away. Yeah, me, I don’t see why I keep it to myself,” she said. “Why can’t I share with someone else and everyone can benefit from it?”
The restaurant is in Little Ethiopia and gives diners a chance to learn about the chef’s culture and food. In return, the chefs get 5% of the sales, with the rest going back to funding the foundation’s programs. More than a dozen chefs have been sharing their dishes through the program for the last two years.
Enas Tayyem came to the U.S. as a Palestinian refugee before becoming a dentist. She also had a chance to feature Palestinian dishes through the program.
“I wanted to put it into that nice preserved space and to share that with everybody to try it and to be connected not only to the dish but to my background as a Palestinian,” she said.
Mira Tarabeine is with the Tiyya Foundation, the nonprofit behind the program. She said each purchase made at the restaurant goes back to helping refugees in need.
“People who have recently come into our communities are just like us. They make food similar to us and it’s delicious,” she said. “It’s a way to present a country, a story through a different light. A source of empowerment, a source of skillfulness as opposed to a hateful or an othering crime.”
Recently, Flavors From Afar received a $75,000 grant from the LA 2050 Grant Challenge. The increase in funding means chefs such as Sebit will inspire more conversations at the table.
“When people are sitting at the table and enjoying a good food, they want to know. They are going to be curious, like to know about my country, my people,” she said.
The restaurant is at 1046 S. Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles.