Meet Our Cooks

Nasra Jama

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“My favourite thing to cook is African, Somali food.”

Nasra is from Mogadishu, Somalia. She explains that she likes to cook because for her it is easy and natural and she enjoys being in the kitchen.

Nasra explains that in Somalia “We cook rice, chapatti…families like to eat rice and meat, Somali people love rice and meat.” For breakfast in Somalia, many people will eat Anjero. Anjero is similar to the Ethiopian Injera but for the rest of the meals, it’s primarily rice and meat, sometimes with vegetables.

Fatuma Muhudin

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“Food connects you with people from different cultures."

Fatuma grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia where she learnt how to cook traditional Somali food.

“When you cook with the community, you learn about each other’s cultures and it brings you closer as a community. I love to share my cultural foods with others.”

Fatuma loves to cook her home food which she describes as “bariis Iyo hilib." It translates to “rice and roast meat." This is served as a banquet and is best shared on Fridays with her friends and family and on special occasions.

Jovita Lay

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“My favourite thing to cook? Everything! I like to cook everything, you know, I like to make cakes, cooking…I like cooking, I like to cook everything, all the things, I just don’t like sewing!”

Jovita’s mum had a small business, like a bread shop, back in Timor, so she and her siblings had the opportunity to learn to cook there. “You know in my culture, most of the time, the girls have to do all of the cooking jobs, the house jobs… You have to learn to cook to look after your family. So my mum showed me how to cook, you know, first I learned the easy one, you know what my mum showed me first? Rice! You know here, in Timor, we learn to measure the rice and water with our finger, here [in Australia] you use the cups!"

Sometimes Jovita accepts help in the kitchen but often she cooks on her own. All the recipes are in her head. So when people ask her how to do it, it’s hard to explain. “Just like my mum used to teach me, we don’t know how many cups. We just know when we have the feeling that it needs a little bit more of this or a little bit less of that.”

Jovita remembers how her mum used to cook for big celebrations such as Lunar New Year, for the family and relatives. This is also why she likes to cook as it reminds her of those times.

Ali Arpaci

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“I cook because I love to share food and I’m passionate about cakes. My people say, to go to a man’s heart, you go through his stomach…so it’s the same for everyone, food is a way to the heart.”

“Gaziantep is my home town, people from there they make very nice food, just with eggplant we have more than 60 dishes! We have Ottoman food, we have so many, so many, so many, traditional foods.”

Ali explains that every hometown has different food, every town has their own unique traditional recipes. Here in Australia, people often only think of Kebab when they think of Turkey but there is so much more!

“I’m passionate about cooking, many years I didn’t know what to do. Then you came up [Cultural Catering], and Chonny told us about this opportunity. For the last year or so, Ali has been cooking for Cultural Catering. "I’m in the kitchen everyday, that’s my duty.”

Ali loves working with the other community cooks. “We call each other brother and sisters. I say, ‘even if my fingers bleeding’, I will go to help them.”

Van Nguyen

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Van grew up in a town in the middle of Vietnam. After the war broke out she and her family evacuated to the south, where she lived in Saigon. Van came to Australia in her early twenties.

“I love to cook because I love to see people happy when they finish my food. I like to see people eating food from different cultures and countries; it makes me very happy.”

“My favourite thing to cook is vegetable rice paper rolls, springs rolls veggie or meat, anything that’s a roll! I also like to cook chicken curry… and everything traditional Vietnamese!”


Luul Abdisamad

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Luul is from Somalia but was raised in Ethiopia. That mix of East African cultures inspires Luul in her cooking today.

"Cooking is therapeutic. It's very creative. It gives you the ability to start something from scratch and run through the process and make something that you can be proud of."

She remembers learning to cook at a very young age. Her favourite food-related memory is inventing a pizza recipe with various ingredients in her house, which turned out to be a hit with her family.

"I made it work somehow."

Luul loves learning from her fellow Cultural Catering cooks, and sharing her own skills through her cooking.

"There's a lot of diversity in terms of cooking and it's wonderful to see."

Aziza Mahmoud

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Aziza is from Eritrea but was born in Saudi Arabia. She loves cooking rice with chicken and meat - one of her specialities.

She was encouraged by her family to start cooking professionally, who said she had a special talent after tasting her creations.

"It's easy for me ... my family supports me. My mum especially. After she tried my cooking, she said 'I'll never cook again!'"

Aziza has been cooking since she was 9 years old and is quick to learn new recipes from friends and family.

She also loves inventing her own dishes and learning new foods through her Cultural Catering colleagues.

"I saw it was very easy, the way they make satay skewers. So I tried it at home. It was very tasty!"

Apuot Bol

For Apuot, cooking is about getting together, sharing food with family and friends with love and warmth.

“What do I like to cook? Well, my kids love to eat pasta!” Apuot loves to cook traditional South Sudanese food, in particular a dish called Combo, which is made from Okra and peanut butter. "It's a South Sudanese favourite," she says. "If you go to a South Sudanese event and there’s no Combo…well!"

“When I cook Combo in my house, EVERYone eats it, it always gets eaten! My kids could eat that everyday, Combo and Pasta!

Apuot agrees food is culture, “especially Combo, that’s our culture there.”