Emma’s Torch, a Café and Classroom for Refugees

Student chef, Addwa Alsubaie, 19, who is preparing avocados at Emma’s Torch, came to the U.S. with her older sister from Saudi Arabia more than a year ago. “We are asylum seekers. It’s hard to live as a woman [in Saudi Arabia],” she told BKLYNER. (Photo via BKLYNER)

In addition to serving brunch, sandwiches and other items, the recently opened Emma’s Torch has an additional purpose: To empower refugees, asylees and human trafficking victims and prepare them for a career in the food industry through ESL classes and a culinary training program, reports Pamela Wong for BKLYNER.

Kerry Brodie, the founder and executive director of the Red Hook café, received some 50 applications for the program but can only accept two students for the 100 hours of culinary – and coffee – training and eight to 10 students for the 12-week-long ESL classes.

“The theory of Emma’s Torch is that people can interact over food and it can build bridges between people who have never met,” Brodie says. “We all have these memories of cooking with our mothers, our grandmothers, our fathers—that’s the same type of memory, whether you’re from Syria or from Poland or from the U.S.”

Mandy Maxwell not only serves as head chef, she also teaches two student cooks.

“I’ve worked in a lot of high-end restaurants and I started questioning what I was doing,” Maxwell says. “I ended up going to graduate school—NYU for Food Systems and Policy, and it really opened my eyes to all the ways that you can help people with food.”

“It’s totally changed how I think about food because it’s an amazing opportunity to teach people and give them the ability to make their own living instead of just making really fancy food for a small population,” she adds.

Where did the name “Emma’s Torch” come from? What prompted Brodie to open such a café? And how did the project come about? Go to BKLYNER to find out.

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