Editor’s Note: Rachel is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan really cool, really fun events that benefit the community. Rachel graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in psychology. She spent the past year serving in another AmeriCorps program where she traveled the state of New York to help out with various environmental projects. As part of Rachel’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.
Sarah is the current “Chef in residence” for the With Love Restaurant. She is from Pakistan and is quite excited to bring a taste of her culture to Syracuse.
Q: How did you come to the Northside?
A: I came here as a refugee, 4 years ago, in 2012. When we came here, I was really happy because I feel so blessed here […] People are doing really, really great jobs. I feel so happy—like when I was here as a refugee, CYO Catholic Charities helped us a lot in many different ways. It’s not just the refugee programs, there are different kind of trainings, programs. So if you are new in this country, they will guide you. Even if I am in my own country, I can never learn so many things right away. So here, people help you a lot in many different ways. Even in this program, I know this is my cuisine, my recipes, so students are working on that. But for my job, I’m learning the management skills here. So just learning, learning, and giving more.
Q: How did you get involved in With Love?
A: Actually, I found Adam from CYO Catholic Charities. I went to CYO because when we came as refugees, they had different programs, every single day, every single week . . . So I just went over there one day and I saw that there was a card that says ‘My Lucky Tummy- if you know how to cook your country’s food, just give me a call back.’ So I just saw the card, it looked so interesting to me, and I just took that card, I came home, and I called that number and there was Adam. I said ‘I am from Pakistan,’ and he said, ‘Oh really?’ and he said, ‘What are the foods you can cook?’ The foods he asked me—I never cooked that before! Because there are some particular kinds of foods in my country, there are some special chefs. They cook that. We don’t cook that at home. They are specially prepared on weddings, on special occasions. But I said, ‘I don’t know. I didn’t cook that before, but I can cook that. So…is that ok?’ There are a few things that I never knew before, that I didn’t cook before, but I did cook that for him. And he really liked that. And me myself, I really liked that.
Q: At the ribbon cutting, you indicated that you were surprised and even a little jealous about how well other chefs are able to make your cuisine. What other surprises have you encountered since opening?
A: The surprising part is that people aren’t familiar with my food but they really like it. That’s the best thing. They are not afraid to try new cuisine, new flavors, new spices. They came, they like it, they enjoy it, and they said they want more. And they want to come again and again. This is a really good and surprising thing for me.
Q: Is there anything that you feel can’t be captured about the culture of your food within the current format of a typical Western restaurant?
A: Yeah, definitely, because cuisine is a totally different thing. Because I only get few customers from Pakistan. And it’s totally different with them because the way they order, the way they like the food, it’s different. We don’t have a lot of things on our menu that are the typical Pakistani food. So they came here, the food they have right now, it’s good, but I know what they wanted, you know? What their main things are and we don’t have much time to cook all things here, we just have few students, like 4 students who are working here.
But the way I think, if people are coming from my country, it would be totally different […] When I open my own restaurant, I’m planning to have different cultured pictures from my country, and the clothing […] Like when we serve a food in my country, we have some special kind of cloth where we put our bread in it. It’s very interesting, so here it’s not the same. And in my country, it’s very important to see these things over there. And even when we serve a bread, it has to be in special kind of cloth and there’s a special plate we serve with them.
Q: If you could open a restaurant anywhere, where would it be and why?
A: Dubai, because I really love Dubai. It would be Pakistani, and I would try to do remix kind of things. Mixing my spices and mixing the American food with the Pakistani food. We are actually planning, me and Chris, the chef, we are planning to do some of these kinds of things in the future for this restaurant.
Q: Can you tell us your plans for after With Love?
A: I am really planning to [open a restaurant immediately after this] because I really want to take that spur with me. I want to continue that, I just don’t want to break it. But it just depends how far I get this space, how far I am prepared. I’m really ready, I really want to do that. I thought maybe it’s gonna be good on the Northside, but I’m not sure about that. There are many people from OCC, from the business management plan, that are going to help me, where will be the perfect place to do this business […]
My mother, she is a cosmetologist. I worked with her in my own country. So, I have so many different things I can do at the same time. Once my mom will be here, and if by God’s willing I will be successful in the restaurant business, then definitely I will do something in my hairstyling, in cosmetology.
Q: Anything else that you’d like to share with readers?
A: I just want to say, being a woman, being a refugee in this country, no matter whatever struggles you face, if you just focus on your dream, if you believe in yourself, just follow them, and do it. If you have faith in yourself, then I think people will believe you.
To experience With Love, Pakistan for yourself, visit the restaurant during lunch on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (12:00 – 2:00 PM) or dinner on Thursdays and Fridays (5:00 – 8:00 PM). For updates on With Love, check out their website and follow them on Facebook.