Tag Archives: Ratatouille and Company

Ratatouille Serves Up Empowering Dishes

As debate over US immigration policy rages, the focus is on Central American refugees arriving at the Southwest border.

But many other refugees seek asylum here too. In 2017, “06880” highlighted Ratatouille and Company.

That’s the upscale, Westport-based catering company. They train women to become high-level chefs and catering wizards.

And they do it with a strong social mission. They work with women from all backgrounds, but they’re particularly proud of their refugees and immigrant women.

A quick break, before a big catering job.

Ratatouille empowers them, offering cooking, presentation and management skills, along with opportunities and encouragement.

But the women give back plenty in return. They share local recipes and inspire co-workers, clients, and anyone else fortunate enough to enjoy their mouth-watering meals.

Since that “06880” story 2 years ago, Ratatouille has trained over 30 women in culinary arts. They gain both front and back of the house experience, and learn to collaborate with fellow team members.

Concentrating on great food — and perfect presentation.

“It’s a great skill set — a lot more than dishwashers and waitresses,” says co-founder and Westporter Evelyn Isaia.

“We put on events in places these women would never have access to. And they appreciate all those opportunities.” Two women have already gone on to work for the Jean-Georges Group.

An immigrant from Vietnam is typical. Her life is hard. But she is showcasing her cooking talent. Recently, she organized a 5-course tasting menu in Greenwich.

A beautiful Ratatouille and Company delicacy.

Ratatouille caters everything from small cocktail parties to large events. The other day, they set up a tent in New Fairfield and provided wedding guests with lobster rolls, gazpacho, barbecue, tarts, puff pastry (with ratatouille!), and 3 desserts. Seven servers, and a kitchen crew of 5, worked for 11 hours.

This is no charity organization. After one year, it turned a profit.

Ratatouille chefs earn $20 to $25 an hour. With tips, a server can make $200 an evening.

But the women work hard — learning how to communicate in a kitchen, operate a business and serve. Always, they work on their cooking.

“Our clients’ eyes open wide when they see the food we put out, and the level of service,” Isaia says.

The food comes from Syria, Kazakhstan, Honduras — wherever the women come from. Menus are adaptable to each client’s needs.

Evelyn Isaia

Cooking is done in a kitchen in Bridgeport. Isaia is looking for a second kitchen in the Bronx. Ratatouille caters events throughout the tri-state area.

One woman hired Ratatouille for a cocktail party because she believed in its mission. She’ll hire them again, because “the food was inventive, delicious and generous, and the staff was well-trained and gracious.”

Another says the women are “pleasant, professional and warm, and the food is sensational.” She calls “the added plus” of helping female refugees support themselves and their families “a delicious and soul-satisfying combination.”

Women come to the company from trade schools, community colleges and non-profit organizations focused on workplace development. All are vetted and documented.

“We never discuss politics,” Isaia notes. “But we all realize this is another side to all that talk about caravans, and immigrants taking jobs from Americans.”

Ratatouille Serves Up Empowerment For Women

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

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.

Evelyn Isaia

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.”

(From left): Hong Thaimee, Fufu Fawez, Evelyn Isaia and Miriam Fawez, with food Mirian prepared and presented for last month’s Middle Eastern dinner.

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.)