New York Post is spreading the word about us. Two of our recent graduates got to sit down with New York Post and talk about how Emma's Torch has changed their lives.
By Hannah Sparks | July 24, 2018
Food is, of course, sustenance. But one local restaurant has shown it can also give immigrants a shot at a new life.
Emma’s Torch, a new eatery in Carroll Gardens, not only serves dinner six nights a week and brunch on the weekend, it also trains refugees in its kitchen and helps them find work.
“It kept on ringing in my head this idea that food can really be used to create bridges … to do so much more than just feed people,” says Kerry Brodie, 28, who started Emma’s Torch as a pop-up in Red Hook last summer, then re-opened it in May at a permanent location on Smith Street.
The refugee-trainees undergo a two-month program, learning knife skills, health codes and, of course, basic cooking methods while being paid $15 an hour. (All participants are authorized to work in the US.) For the first month, they focus solely on developing skills; in the second month, they transition into dinner service.
Alongside head chef and chief educator Alexander Harris, an alum of Blue Smoke and Le Caprice, they prepare American fare with international twists — such as black-eyed pea hummus ($8) and spiced lamb shank ($25) — for patrons.
“We want to make sure [guests] want to come back time and again,” says Brodie. “Not just because of the mission, but because the food is delicious and the service is really welcoming.”
The apprentices also find the vibe welcoming.
“We are [like] family now!” says a recent grad, Dima Pasiakin, of his relationship with his fellow apprentices and instructors.
The 31-year-old fled Russia with his partner in February 2017 after being persecuted for being gay. He and his boyfriend were married at City Hall last summer and are awaiting an asylum interview. Last month, he graduated from the Emma’s Torch program and, with the organization’s help, got a job cooking at the Tribeca farm-to-table restaurant Marc Forgione.
“In Russia, if you have plans to make some career or just be successful … you can’t be openly gay. It’s totally unacceptable,” says Pasiakin, who lives in Sheepshead Bay.
For Dyker Heights resident Mazen Khoury, 28, Emma’s Torch has given him the chance to continue the work he was doing in his home country of Syria, where he had a restaurant serving traditional fare.
But, despite his background, Khoury quickly found he had plenty to learn.
“I thought I knew like 90 percent of the culinary arts … I was shocked because I never worked with French cuisine. We use different tools and things [in Arabic cooking],” he says. “I love … the branzino. I don’t [usually] like fish … so I don’t know how to cook fish. But they make it a different way, and I loved it.”
He completed the program in June and now works as a cook in a grocery store deli in Brooklyn.
“My first job was in the restaurant, and my last job in the restaurant, too. I’ve never worked anywhere else,” he says.
This year, the program — which is funded by donations, various partnerships and revenue from the restaurant — has received 75 applications, but it only has space for four students in each two-month session.
Eventually, Brodie hopes to expand the program, replicating it in other large cities. But, for now, she’s focusing on perfecting the current model, and proud of what they’ve accomplished already.
“Every generation has the opportunity to say what they stand for,” she says. “I hope that I can look to my future children and say … ‘We didn’t do enough, but here’s the tiny drop in the bucket that we did do.’ ”