Tag Archives: US immigration

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.”

Saying Adios To A Friend

Countless Westporters knew him as an ever-smiling, always gentle and kind man.

His boss knew him as an incredibly hard worker. He volunteered for every task, made sure it was done right, and helped make the entire store run well.

He’s gone now, back to his home country.

He was a legal immigrant. But his wife was undocumented.

They were so fearful of what might happen, they decided to leave. They loved America, and made the most of their lives here. Now though, the risks seemed too great.

His boss is devastated. So — when they heard the news — were the customers, who had become his friends.

I’m not using his name, or where he worked. I’ve been told that in his home country, gangs think people who worked in America have a lot of money. The fear of extortion or robbery is real.

The “06880” reader who told me this story says, “It’s one thing to read about something like this in the paper. It’s so different when someone you like is actually involved.”

The store owner has no idea what her former employee’s new life will be like.

She hopes he stays in touch.