By Isabelle Langlois
On the menu of caterer Les Filles Fattoush, we find so much more than delicious Syrian dishes. The business has a mission with a social flavour: to facilitate the integration of Syrian refugees by offering them their first job in Quebec as cooks.
Josette Gauthier, a documentary filmmaker and producer, is the person responsible for cooking up this innovative project. Over a year ago, a shoot on a soup kitchen in a refugee camp in Italy brought the difficult reality of emigrants to her attention. She became particularly interested in the arrival of 7,500 Syrians in Quebec and in sustainable ways to help them. A meeting with an activist who taught women to cook in Lebanese refugee camps solidified the idea of a social catering service.
Les Filles Fattoush came into existence a few months later, in September, thanks to her work and that of her partner, Adelle Tarzibachi, who herself is originally from Syria. “This is a time when we must think of long-term solutions. Les Filles Fattoush is a step in that direction.”
Sponsoring a family facilitates their arrival, but this support only lasts a year. When the thirteenth month arrives, the question of integration comes into play, and resources diminish while obstacles remain as numerous. The catering option presented itself as a solution to several of them.
The business is itself a true example of social innovation: on the one hand, it provides a job and financial independence, and on the other, it also sets the stage for interactions between Syrians and Quebecers. By serving their dishes, the “Fattoush girls” can chat about their culture with those who want to know more and in turn, they are able to learn more about their host country. Consequently, this approach has a positive and sustainable impact on all of society.
In this way, Quebecers have the chance to discover Syrian culture and gain insight into refugees’ situations. “Syrians arrive with a lot of baggage: the life they left behind, death, destruction,” lists Josette. “Then, they have to learn a new language, find a job and deal with isolation.” The jobs encourage the type of dialogue that will prove to be beneficial for the integration of the Les Filles Fattoush cooks and for the entire Syrian community. “A meal is historically and symbolically a cherished moment for sharing. It is widely recognized that food is a unifying force,” adds Josette.
Today, approximately fifteen women work in the kitchen to delight the clientele’s taste buds. As the project is still in its infancy, the founders are waiting to have a solid foundation before reaching higher. Regardless, there is no lack of ideas. The two entrepreneurs have already thought about opening a food truck or kiosks in public markets, among other ideas. They are also considering options that go beyond the catering aspect. “We see the potential of growing as a business, but we also want to work on the social aspect by organizing round tables or speeches in order to raise Quebec society’s awareness of the realities of refugees.”
The training aspect isn’t neglected either. In the aim of encouraging the Syrians’ independence in various ways, the co-founders hope to train replacements to take charge of certain catering tasks. “These are very competent women who could occupy several positions in the business and therefore have Quebec work experience to add to their CV.” The cooks that make up the team all have very different backgrounds. Even if, for example, they once practiced law or teaching in Syria, they are proud to be behind the stoves. Having a job makes it possible to regain a certain dignity, reminds Josette.
In meeting the Syrian refugees, the film director noticed how grateful these women are to be here. “They thank Canadians and Quebecers for the opportunity to start a new life. Seeing these women smile and be happy—there’s nothing more motivating.”
We can also find this joy as an ingredient in the dishes by Les Filles Fattoush. “Syrian cuisine is rich in flavour, and even in happiness,” says Josette. “It’s food that has such a beautiful tradition of sharing that we can really taste these happy exchanges.”
Truly, the work of this social enterprise whets your appetite and fills your heart!
Phone Number: (514) 834-9277
Email: BONJOUR [at] LESFILLESFATTOUSH.COM
Website: Les Filles Fattoush