The world's most passionate young chefs, including René Redzepi and David Chang, are rallying around a Somali restaurateur who continues to rebuild his restaurant after it has been repeatedly destroyed by bombs in war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia. The latest attack occurred on Saturday, killing fifteen and injuring twenty more. Owner Ahmed Jama, who now has five area branches of The Village, released a statement declaring: “I won’t let this stop me. I will start clean up tomorrow.”
So how does a chef with a few local restaurants capture the attention of the most famous chef on the planet? Redzepi first read about Jama via CNN (tied to previous bombings) and invited him to speak at last month's summit for food-world luminaries, MAD3 Symposium in Copenhagen. "Given that Ahmed is a chef and the bombing took place in his restaurant, his story naturally hit close to home," explains MAD’s director Ali Kurshat Altinsoy. Knowing they wanted him there was one thing, getting in touch was another: “It was difficult to even make contact—in Somalia, the internet still remains restricted to land-based dial up and the telephones simply don't ring.”
They did make contact, and Jama shared his story with a large crowd in August: “In 2008, I closed my restaurant in London and moved back to my homeland to open a restaurant in Mogadishu. They thought I was crazy to do it in a war zone,” he said. “We only have a negative history in Somalia. I want my restaurant to change the history of my country, I want it to add a positive message to the world’s perception of Somalia.”
Jama opened The Village to serve Somali dishes like wood-grilled kingfish with green-chili sauce and camel meat with warmly-spiced rice, carrots, and raisins. The recipes reflect the country's heritage as a crossroads for Italians, Ethiopians, Persians and Middle Easterners. But his goal goes far beyond preserving culinary traditions. "It’s the place to come together to build an understanding amongst people,” said Jama. His clientele includes politicians, academics and journalists.
Following last week's tragic events, the friends he made in Denmark have established a $12,500 crowdfunding campaign to raise money for rebuilding efforts. Donations pouring in from around the world, including those from culinary favorites like David Chang, Daniel Patterson of San Francisco's Coi and writer Francis Lam, have already fulfilled over seventy percent of the fundraising goal.
Altinsoy says, “We hope that this small effort can result in something positive for him and those around him.” As Jama undertakes the painful rebuilding process once more, his statement at MAD, “I always believed that food can change society. Often, it is the only way,” seems more poignant than ever.
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