Celebrate refugee culture and food with Refugee Action’s Big Night In

By February 18, 2015Press release

Refugees invite the nation to discover their treasured family recipes for the tastiest human rights event of the year: Refugee Action’s Big Night In. Get cooking with your friends and family, raise money for refugees and celebrate their positive contribution to Britain’s food and culture.

Refugee Action and The Spicery are partnering for this exciting new culinary celebration on 2nd May, when hundreds of supporters will hold dinner parties with a difference. They’ll serve delicious food using a specially created Big Night In box from the Spicery, containing spices and recipes for a three-course meal for eight people, designed in collaboration with refugee chefs. Host an event and help refugees, who have fled war, persecution and other unimaginable atrocities, to rebuild their lives here in the UK.

Seven talented refugee chefs, from Sudan to Iran, are generously sharing recipes for their favourite dishes from home, often passed down through families for generations. People will be able to vote for the recipe they want to have made into a special edition Big Night In spice box. The winner’s pack will be available for £10, all of which is donated to Refugee Action.

James Ransome, who founded The Spicery, explains why he feels working with Refugee Action to support and celebrate refugees is important.

“Welcoming and working with refugees is really important to me as a businessman, but it is also simple good manners. Refugees and asylum seekers arrive in this country fleeing war and persecution we can barely imagine.”

He added: “Over the years we’ve realised that many of our suppliers originally arrived in the UK as refugees. We buy turmeric and chilli from someone who fled Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda, our cinnamon comes from a supplier who fled the Sri Lankan civil war, and our paprika is sourced from a company whose owner left Hungary after the Soviet invasion in the 1950’s, and there are many, many more stories like this.”

Sitana, who was forced to leave Sudan after speaking out against the government, has been working with James in The Spicery’s kitchens to develop her recipe for gima, a traditional Sudanese dish. “I think many people will like it because the ingredients are obvious – potato, onions, garlic, some spices. It is simple!”

Despite having a happy childhood, learning from her mother how to cook for their big family, life took a sudden turn for the worse at university: “I discovered it’s forbidden to speak about the regime. I wanted everyone to be able to speak out and express their opinion – I don’t like that people are afraid.”

When the political party she joined had a disagreement with the university, Sitana was forced to leave her home and flee to Egypt to join her brother and his family, who had also been forced to leave Sudan. In 2013 the UK granted them protection through an international protection programme and Refugee Action has been helping them rebuild their lives ever since.

Finally feeling safe in the UK to speak freely, Sitana counts herself lucky: “I thank God I had a lucky escape; some people have disappeared, others are damaged – physically and emotionally.” She added: “In Sudan, many people have lost their rights.”

Now studying English and Maths, she finds time to cook traditional Sudanese food with her brother using recipes passed down from their mother. Although since living in Britain, she admits her food choices have changed: “Now I am in Britain, I eat what British people eat. I like soup because it is so cold here!”

Voting will soon be open to choose between seven mouth-watering recipes – from ndolé, a nutty stew from Cameroon, to Kurdish stuffed dolma – created by our refugee chefs. Once the winner is announced, the spice box will be available to buy from The Spicery’s website and supporters can help refugees like Sitana by donating £10 to receive a pack.

“We’ve definitely benefitted as a business and as a country from the contribution that refugees have made” says James, “and it doesn’t seem a huge step to try and give a little something back.”