Courtesy of Tables Without Borders

A pair of married chefs from Homs, Syria took over the kitchen at Granville Moore’s on H Street NE this week to prepare 500 servings of a traditional Middle Eastern dish called kabsa. Through a partnership with the nonprofit Tables Without Borders, the meals went to food-insecure local residents. 

“It felt like hard work, but the reward was greater because the food was going to people who needed it,” Chef Abdulmouin Almubarak says in Arabic translated into English. He and his wife, Randa, created a custom spice blend for the chicken-based kabsa. The dish, he says, “reminds me of everyone coming together.”

Two Granville Moore’s sous chefs helped Abdulmouin and Randa in the kitchen. The sous chefs prepped, cooked, packaged, and delivered the 500 meals to residents of N Street Village and Jubilee Housing in D.C. as well as low-income families in Falls Church. 

Tables Without Borders, founded by Sam Sgroi and Sara Abdel-Rahim, supports refugee and asylum-seeking chefs in the D.C. area. Under normal circumstances, the organization places chefs in paid culinary internships at local restaurants that culminate in a dinner the newly settled chef leads.

“Tables Without Borders is an opportunity to provide access to the culinary industry for those who may not have it and want to continue doing what they love,” Abdel-Rahim says. “I wanted to be the bridge for newcomers to the United States that have these culinary backgrounds and want to flourish but don’t have the tools to do so.”

In this case, Abdulmouin and Randa have decades of experience as chefs and used to work at restaurants and hotels in their home country before coming to the U.S. in 2016. They’ve kept busy by cooking for friends and neighbors and catering parties.

Many nonprofits and businesses have had to change their practices during the COVID-19 pandemic to either survive or help others. Tables Without Borders has set their chefs up in local kitchens for one-day stints where they make large quantities of meals for vulnerable populations that partner organizations like CASA and Ayuda identify. 

Chef Bacon Williams, who arrived in the U.S. six months ago from Cote D’Ivoire, cooked the first round of meals with Tables Without Borders and he’s scheduled to cook another batch of meals this week. Donations from the public have made it possible for Tables Without Borders to pay their chefs for their work as well as the cost of ingredients, packaging, and transportation. The organization has raised more than $15,000 on GoFundMe since the public health emergency took effect.

“There’s been an overwhelming positive response to what we’re doing,” Abdel-Rahim says. She says people who are relatively comfortable during the crisis are eager to give back. “With people being so fortunate, they want to take care of people left by the wayside like undocumented immigrants who don’t have access to stimulus checks or refugees and asylum-seekers who aren’t eligible for benefits.” 

Granville Moore’s owner Ryan Gordon was happy to open his kitchen up for the project and plans to do so again tomorrow. “Anyway they can use this kitchen for a good cause, come in and use it,” Gordon says.