Danish chef cooks up fundraising drive for Somalia
Life goes on: A child and others playing in the surf on Lido beach in Mogadishu during the Eid holiday in August - EPA
Friday, September 13, 2013
Founder of Noma raises RM52,000 to help rebuild the Village restaurant in Mogadishu bombed by rebel group.
TWO more different restaurants are hard to imagine. Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, is an oak-floored oasis of calm and elegance that has thrice been ranked the world’s best. The Village in war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia, is a humbler affair and has just been attacked by Islamist militants, killing at least 18 people.
Yet the community of chefs is strong. Rene Redzepi, the celebrated founder of Noma, was so shocked at the latest outrage that he launched a fundraising drive to help Somali Ahmed Jama rebuild his establishment. In just four days it has raised €12,000 (RM52,000), with donations coming from around the world.
“He’s a cook who has a bigger mission than any of us,” Redzepi said. “We all cook for ourselves but he has a bigger agenda. We’re from Scandinavia where our struggles are not worth mentioning compared to the things he has to deal with.”
Jama, who studied catering in Solihull, West Midlands, England, also owns a Somali restaurant called the Village in Hammersmith, west London. He returned to Mogadishu to demonstrate the country could change for the better and opened the Village in 2008. More recently, he opened a US$100-a-night hotel.
Redzepi first read about Jama in the British Guardian newspaper last year and invited him to speak at Noma’s recent Mad Symposium food festival where his talk was called War zone cuisine: bringing back peace and life to Mogadishu.
Jama told the gathering of chefs, cooks and farmers: “In 2008 I decided to open a restaurant in Mogadishu and my fellow Somalis in London thought I was crazy: ‘How could I open a restaurant in a dangerous area like Mogadishu?’ But when I opened the restaurant I made an opportunity for employing many young people and they were very happy, and have attracted many people to come and eat at my restaurant.”
Jama won over his audience. Redzepi said: “He talked about his decision to leave the safety net of Europe and address the negative perceptions of Somalia. It was a really touching, inspiring story and he did it in a way that wasn’t trying to get sympathy. That’s why it was so crazy to read the headline about a guy we’d just spent four days with.”
Two weeks after the symposium, the Village was attacked for the third time in its history by al-Shabaab, a group linked to al-Qaida. Jama survived, having stepped outside five minutes before the bombings, and vowed to rebuild once again.
Redzepi expressed admiration for the Somalian’s resolve. “It’s close to my heart. I totally get him and his dedication to the table. What he fights for is not Michelin stars or being on some list, but a totally different level of dedication.
“It’s mind boggling that he hasn’t quit after being bombed so many times. Most people in that situation would have.”
He set up an appeal fund, tweeting on Monday: “Guys, lets help out chef Ahmed in Somalia rebuild.” It attracted donations from countries including the US, Australia, Britain, Denmark and Lebanon, ranging from €10 to €1,000. “We all said we want to help people. That genuine compassion is what makes the world tick.”
Since al-Shabaab was driven out two years ago there has been some progress in Mogadishu. A president and parliament have been elected, foreign embassies including the British have reopened and events such as TEDxMogadishu have been staged. But in June the rebel group attacked the main UN compound, killing at least 22, and recently Medecins Sans Frontieres announced it was pulling out of Somalia after 22 years.