Four months ago, a recent Syrian refugee helped cook and serve a delicious Middle Eastern dinner in a private home.
She was eager. It was a chance to gain a foothold in a new country, one that really does offer the possibility of building a new life far from the the horrors of war.
Hong Thaimee saw the hope in the woman’s eyes. She too is an immigrant. She came to the US from Thailand 10 years ago. Now she’s the chef/owner of Ngam in New York (with 2 more restaurants opening this year), a cookbook author, global speaker and humanitarian activist.
Thaimee is also co-founder — with Westporter Evelyn Isaia — of Ratatouille and Company. A “sophisticated catering company with a social purpose,” the intriguingly named business helps women who face difficulties and challenges become self-sufficient through hospitality.
Thaimee comes from a family of chefs. Isaia spent 30 years in wealth management.
But ever since she was a teenager, Isaia volunteered for social causes. She’s a longtime partner with Social Venture Partners Connecticut, and a board member of the Women’s Business Development Council of Connecticut.
Last month, Isaia retired. Thanks to meeting Thaimee 2 years ago through mutual friends, a new career — and business – was born.
Both share a passion for culinary arts, and a desire to help others “bridge the opportunity gap.”
“Women often get the short end of the stick,” Isaia explains. “They can be empowered only by knowledge.”
With her ability to organize — and Thaimee’s passion for cooking — the new business is a natural.
It gained steam even before Isaia formally retired. Last September, they organized a black-tie tasting event in Paris. Thaimee’s cooking class and book-signing — and a gala dinner — raised €80,000 for the American Church of Paris.
Three months later in Greenwich, the Women’s Business Development Council was the beneficiary of a sit-down dinner and auction.
Now, with the opening of a commercial kitchen, Ratatouille is ready to partner with other organizations, including Building One Community in Stamford and the International Institute of Connecticut. Those refugee resettlement programs provided the path for the Syrian woman to start finding her new way in America.
Ratatouille’s owners are full-service. Thaimee works with the women on cooking; Isaia teaches them to make beautiful table decorations, serve at a cocktail party or 4-course meal, and organize the flow of a gala event.
Last month’s Middle Eastern dinner — a private party — was a triumph. Miriam Fawez made the delicious food, and learned how to present it artfully. Nervous at the start, by the end of the night — after hearing diners’ compliments, and seeing their smiles — she felt confident and happy.
“Mirian just wanted a job,” Isaia says. “Now she’s got a stage.”
The co-founders look forward to working with other non-profits, like domestic violence centers in Bridgeport and New York.
The word will spread quickly. Ratatouille is delicious.
(For more information on Ratatouille and Company, click here.)