There are only seven dishes on the menu: a mix of small plates and larger entrées. Each comes from a different country: Iraq, Ukraine, Ethiopia and other nations. All are representative of the students in the kitchen.
At Ubuntu Street Café, lunch is a learning experience, for both diners and cooks. The Kent spot—open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.—is an offshoot of Project Feast, a nonprofit program founded by local entrepreneur and first-generation immigrant Veena Prasad. The program helps refugees and immigrants acclimate to local culture (and prepares them for restaurant jobs) through a shared love of food.
Previous graduates of the program requested more real-life experience, which led to a curriculum that now includes hands-on practice, from taking orders to cooking restaurant-size batches of family recipes to garnishing plates.
Photo by Chustine Minoda. Project Feast students from Iraq, Vietnam and the Ukraine prepare Kofta sandwich meatballs.
Though the café is small and set up more like a commercial kitchen than a traditional restaurant, there’s a homespun appeal in both ambiance—it’s housed in a historic train station building—and flavor. For these students, most of whom are still learning English, service can be the hardest part of their training. But the program’s executive chef, Lisa Nakamura (who closed Gnocchi Bar last year, but still sells her gnocchi wholesale), says she doesn’t relax her standards.
“I push the apprentices hard, to give them a taste of what their future chefs might expect,” she says. “I point out things that they do that future employers will love, as well as what will get them passed over and ignored. I don’t want them passed over or ignored.”
Order the $12 combination plate, which includes a choice of one appetizer (for example, a lovely borscht or Eritrean lentil soup) and one larger plate (like a bowl of chicken curry over rice or a wonderfully comforting Iraqi casserole made with eggplant and potato). With each new class, the menu changes to reflect the students’ heritages and recipes. Come with an open mind—they’ll take care of the rest.
Kent, 202 W Gowe St.; 206.236.5297