What do 32 aspiring chefs of different nationalities do on Zoom during the Covid-19 era? They cook, learn English, and overcome barriers, thanks to the social enterprise founded in London by Jess Thompson in 2017.

Migrateful is one of those experiences that are good for the mind and body – especially the taste buds. Established in London by Jess Thompson in 2017, the social enterprise organises ethnic cooking classes held by refugees and asylum seekers, and boasts a team of 32 chefs from far-flung countries such as Gambia, Lebanon, Ecuador, Pakistan and Syria.

These are refugees hampered by language and social barriers; migrants who have no opportunity to speak English despite having lived in Britain for years; asylum seekers who cannot seek work until they have obtained their papers.

The goal of Migrateful is to support these people in their struggle for
social integration, providing them with the opportunity to practice
English, improve their communication skills and develop a network of
contacts that will act as a springboard for their working life.

Migrateful provides the cooks with basic training to become professional chefs and ensure the success of their courses. Their classes may be regarded as a cultural exchange programme, offering them the chance to reveal their countries’ traditions through cooking, while also laying the foundations for building a network of social relations.

Multicultural cooking is an effective means of social aggregation, helping to overcome stereotypes and barriers. “As we explain on our website, our teaching model revolves around the concept of social interaction,” says Anne Condé, Business Development Manager at Migrateful. “The idea is to create a positive context in which people from different backgrounds can get to know each other and communicate effectively through cooking.”

The virtual kitchen

Since the entry into force of the UK Government’s Coronavirus lockdown measures, Migrateful’s in-person cookery courses have been run on the video conferencing platform, Zoom. In an article published on Migrateful’s Facebook page, Jess Thompson says she herself was diagnosed with coronavirus, and that during her stay in hospital her chefs’ affection was of great support to her, helping her to recover from the disease. Their experiences and the challenges they have had to face have given Jess the courage to start again, despite the uncertain times we are currently living.

“The human interaction in our in-person lessons is extraordinary, and we were concerned that online courses wouldn’t generate the same energy,” explains Anne. “As it turns out, our virtual lessons are extremely successful. Now that we are all forced to say at home, we feel a great need to
get in touch with others and share moments of learning and serenity. We’ve also noticed that working from your own kitchen makes e-learning highly effective. We’ve had excellent feedback both from the course participants and from the chefs.”

Before connecting via Zoom, participants are sent the recipe of the dish being featured in the lesson, as well as a list of ingredients with doses and the list of utensils required.

The chefs guide every lesson, during which participants are encouraged to ask questions and share anecdotes, creating a relaxed and stimulating atmosphere aided by the presence of a cultural mediator to facilitate communication.

Like Migrateful’s in-person lessons, the online courses are also subject to payment, but at a discounted rate starting from a £15.00 donation. The maximum number of participants per class is 12, and students can be based in any country worldwide, Anne tells us enthusiastically – and we’re
happy to take the hint: “Our courses are open to anyone whose English is good enough to follow our lessons. So far we have been blessed with a truly international audience, from France, the United States and Australia, and I am pleased to say our courses are an enormous success.”

Translated by Fiona Tarsia

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