This Women-Run Gourmet Catering Company Trains Refugee Women in Cooking and Service
The global refugee crisis is ever-present in the news these days, but the United States has received displaced peoples from all over the world for a long time now. The catering company we'll tell you about today found in this crisis the inspiration for its mission: to train and employ refugee women who are eager to establish new, fulfilling lives in their new homes.
Ratatouille and Company is the brainchild of two women, who each left their careers to follow a dream related to food. For American Evelyn Isaia, when a decades-long career in wealth management started to lose its luster, she "decided it was time to change course." She knew she wanted to find personal fulfillment by helping people succeed. As if by destiny, through a mutual friend Evelyn met Hong Thaimee, a restauranteur and chef who shared both Evelyn's passion for culinary arts and desire to help others.
Originally employed by a pharmaceutical company in Bangkok, Hong transformed her career based on a similar feeling as the one that struck Evelyn:
"I decided that I'd like to live each day of my life to love and serve people and what better way to do that than through food?" says the current chef/owner of Ngam in New York, cookbook author, global speaker, and humanitarian activist.
Hong and Evelyn's combined expertise provides Ratatouille's trainees with a powerful combination of creative culinary practice and business skills. The former works with women on cooking, while the latter teaches presentation and business management, and helps them with their English. In return, Ratatouille's employees work for the active business, including creating their own recipes for use on the company's gourmet catering menu.
Through partnerships with Building One Community in Stamford and the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, Ratatouille has trained women from Latin America, the Middle East, and parts of Africa, but they don't want to stop there. With their official launch in 2017, Evelyn and Hong hope to expand—to help as many women and communities as possible pursue culinary and business dreams in the United States.
This HooplaHa original video was produced by Tracy Chevrier, shot by Johnny Perez, and edited by Kellie Sieban. For more inspiring videos, follow us on Facebook and sign up for our Only Good News Newsletter.
Ratatouille and Company is thrilled to partner with Building One Community, a Stamford based immigrant resource center dedicated to helping immigrants and their families succeed in the community. For our part, we will be training these eager to learn men and women on the art of service and hospitality as part of the center’s “Conversation with The Check and Catering for Events” series. These interactive workshops provide budding food service professionals with the tools they need to properly serve and manage event situations.
What They Learn
The first service component students learn is how to properly set a table. Ratatouille Founder and service pro Evelyn Isaia provides her students with a comprehensive overview of a properly set table, its configuration purposes, the aesthetics of a thoughtful setting, and the functionality and benefits of an appropriately set table.
The table is set and now it is time for the service portion. Admittedly, service approach will vary due to event formality, cuisine, themes, location, and many other variables, but learning the basics of proper and formal service will provide students with a solid foundation from which to pull from. Evelyn and her team take servers through the many scenarios that focus on plate placement and removal, silverware replacement, reading the guest, clearing a table, and being one step ahead of the guest at all times. Eventually, these practices become instinctive. Also covered is beverage service, as routine as pouring water and being aware of ice spills, to wine service and the proper way to open a bottle, present it to the guest, pouring the wine being mindful of drips, and knowing the suitable amount to be poured, to the appropriate way to refill a glass are all sometimes tricky waters to navigate – even for the service pro.
Overall, the classes are designed to be an enjoyable and fulfilling way to learn a new skill set. Regardless of a person’s background, having proper training and being confident in one’s ability sets them on a positive course for job opportunity, greater confidence, and economic sustainability and success.