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The Power of [Soul] Food

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

Sometimes people confuse our name with the cuisine created by African Americans and therefore think Soul Food is a restaurant or a catering service. While we love collaborating with chefs and making food an integral part of our events and our professional development program, our organization is a nonprofit that uses art and culture to help young migrants and refugees. Art and culture feed the soul (hence the name), and since food is an artform and component of culture, it is one of the tools we use in our work.

Photo © @amandarougier_photos

Food is a powerful tool. It can be used as a form of resistance. It’s something we all need and can derive great pleasure from. Having food-related skills allows one to provide for their family in more ways than one. Culturally, food is what many people remember most from their travels. Food has also always been immigrants’ closest link to home. Recipes and methods of preparing food are what they take with them when they leave, regardless of their circumstances. Food can be used as a form of communication. It’s a storytelling tool that can transport us far away, and convey personal truths. It can also be used as an educational tool, whether it’s used to teach about different countries, cultures, environmental issues, sustainability, history, or health. Food can be used for positive change. As a community, the food we enjoy together strengthens our bonds.

Photo © @amandarougier_photos

Since our very first Soul Food event in February 2020, we’ve included food as an important component of welcoming people into the Soul Food universe. It’s been a meaningful way to showcase what young Soul Food members are capable of. It’s allowed us to come full circle as an organization, particularly with our first partner, Refettorio Paris, a gastronomic solidarity restaurant that invites prestigious chefs to cook for their guests, using ingredients that would have otherwise been wasted. Refettorio guests are people in precarious situations, who eat there for free. We started going in 2018 on cultural excursions. Since then, we’ve continued to enjoy dinners there with our young members and we’ve also placed them in the kitchen to learn from Refettorio chefs. For Soul Food’s 2nd and 4th birthdays, young members in the culinary track of our professional development program returned to collaborate with more established chefs. They created the meals we enjoyed at our birthday events. The profits made from the food we sold at those events went directly to our nonprofit initiatives. They prepared enough to be able to feed the Refettorio’s guests as well, thereby serving as guest chefs themselves.

Photo © @puxanphoto

Photo © @puxanphoto

As a form of communal fundraising, including food at our events helps ensure that we can continue our work with young migrants and refugees. It also helps us grow our community and donor base, since everyone who purchases a meal contributes to our nonprofit initiatives, thereby becoming donors. All of our food collaborations to date have been influenced in some way by young Soul Food members. Since most of them are from West Africa, these influences have included traditional West African ingredients. We’ve been lucky to collaborate with talented chefs from around the world, who choose recipes or ingredients from the food list we created with young Soul Food members. Chefs twist them to match their own culinary style, sometimes working directly with our young members in the kitchen.

A few examples include:

Soumbala mac and cheese balls

Seasoned beef and cassava stew

Mullet ceviche with hibiscus leche de tigre, coriander, radish, African peppers, cumin, and kumquat

Corn and cassava arepa with spicy winter cheeses

Fresh tamarind juice

Plantain bread

Orange muffins with a hibiscus citrus glaze

Photo © Soul Food / Kryssandra Heslop

Our specialty products come from an Ivorian shop, Au Marché de la Côte d’Ivoire. It showcases high-quality artisanal products that are created using traditional, environmentally-friendly methods. Including these types of ingredients serves as a creative exercise for everyone involved. It also allows the Soul Food community to discover something new or a different way of using ingredients they’re already familiar with, and bridges connections across diaspora cultures. It’s one of the ways we use art and culture to tell stories and bring people together.

Photo © Soul Food / Kryssandra Heslop

We’ve harnessed the power of food to feed the souls of our community. When you eat with us, we hope you feel welcome and that you discover new ingredients, flavors and cultures, and that ultimately, there’s more that connects us than divides us. This is our truth, and we are happy to share it with you through food.

Photo © @terencebk

Photo © @terencebk

There are always multiple forms of art and culture present at Soul Food events. Food is just one of them. Check out the Spotify playlists (scan the codes in the app) and links below to get a taste for more:

Soul Food Takeover of La Chope des Artistes

Soul Food Takeover of La Regulière

Soul Food Takeover of La Montgolfière

Photo © @jay.djoon
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