Behind-the-scenes with the refugees and contributors of “Tastes from Home”

Join UNHCR Canada as we reflect on the making of our free e-cookbook and catch up with the refugees and contributors who inspired the project.

UNHCR Canada
11 min readJan 5, 2021
Tareq Hadhad with his family in Nova Scotia. © UNHCR / Darren Calabrese

It’s been a few weeks since UNHCR Canada, the UN Refugee Agency, published our first ever e-cookbook, “Tastes from Home: Recipes from the Refugee Community”. The outpouring of support we’ve seen from Canadians, advocates and refugees from around the world has been incredible — and the team at UNHCR Canada was honoured to work with all the contributors in the cookbook.

The fourteen refugees who were featured in the cookbook have incredible pasts full of resilience, hope and fear. Their stories are featured in “Tastes from Home”, but there is so much more to these inspiring folks than one page can allow. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Tastes from Home”, and an in-depth look at the refugees who made the book so successful.

But first, a thank you to our chefs Sam and Irene

The cookbook wouldn’t be possible without the help of our chefs, Sam Bennett and Irene Matys, who tested and perfected the recipes. Both Sam and Irene safely opened up their homes and volunteered their time and resources to help UNHCR Canada craft and photograph the meals for the book. Thank you to Sam and Irene for their support!

About Sam

Sam Bennett grew up loving the hospitality industry. His family opened Langdon Hall in 1989 and have owned and operated it ever since. His love of food led him to the Cordon Bleu in London, England, where he completed the Grand Diplom. Sam continues to love cooking and does so every night for his wife and two kids.


About Irene

Irene Matys is a proud Greek Cypriot who immigrated to Canada in 1976 as a refugee. She is married to her soulmate, Derek. Together, they have three beautiful daughters: Zoe, Alexandra and Kristyna. To give back to Canada for giving her family a better life, she has been volunteering her time with Plan B Organic Farms in Hamilton, Ontario since 2015.

© Irene Matys (left) and © UNHCR (right)

In the below video, Irene is wearing a ‘Cooks Who Feed’ apron. ‘Cooks Who Feed’ is a social enterprise fighting hunger and food waste. They produce beautifully handcrafted aprons and for every apron sold 100 meals are provided to the hungry using rescued surplus food.

“This is home”: How Anuarite found home and comfort after fleeing the DRC

© Anuarite Manyoha

While Anuarite has not yet gotten used to the cold Canadian winters since leaving the Democratic Republic of the Congo almost seven years ago, the warm welcome she has received in Ottawa has helped her find comfort in her new home. She still remembers her reaction when she first saw an African grocery store in Ottawa: “It felt like heaven!” Like the recipes featured in “Tastes from Home”, African meals help reduce her homesickness. 2020 has also been a busy year for Anuarite, who is a personal support worker at a long-term home health care clinic.

Read Anuarite’s story on page 13 of the cookbook.

Amina Abdulrahim and Zekrah Ameen share their love of food


UNHCR Canada staff first met Amina Abdulrahim, from Eritrea, and Zekrah Ameen, from Yemen, in the basement of a church in Toronto, Canada. Both Amina and Zekrah are a part of the Arab Community Centre of Toronto’s Walima Arab Kitchen, which empowers newcomers to Canada to learn English and life skills while cooking together. Amina and Zekrah had both come to Canada recently and had enlisted their friends Kholoud and Lodi to help translate for them during this project. The group’s hospitality was on full display as Amina made Zigni and injera bread, and Zekrah cooked up her delicious Zurbian for everyone to enjoy.

© UNHCR / Chris Young

Read Amina’s story on page 20 of the cookbook and Zekrah’s on page 50.

In the kitchen with Minister Ahmed Hussen


The Honourable Minister Ahmed Hussen is a busy man — but when he arrived in Toronto’s Paramount Fine Foods, he took the time to make sure that everyone had a chance to try his cooking. In the kitchen, Minister Hussen cooked garlic-butter scallops with an expertise you might not expect from a politician. Paramount’s staff and CEO Mohamad Fakih joked that he might have a second career as a chef — and he even had the custom apron to prove it. “I think it was a really brilliant idea because it showcases again, another element of the humanity of refugees,” Minister Hussen said when asked why he decided to contribute to the cookbook.

Read Minister Hussen’s story on page 28 of the cookbook.

Sweet Treats for Happy Occasions with Tareq Hadhad

© Tareq Hadhad

A year after acquiring Canadian citizenship, Tareq is as busy as ever. In the cookbook, the Peace by Chocolate founder shares some of his favourite recipes, including the “Nightingale’s Nest”. In the Hadhad household, this pistachio delicacy is often served when someone wants to announce good news. “When we make the Nightingale’s Nest, it’s when we know that there is something new in the family, that someone is going to announce an update. That something happy is coming.” Tareq hopes that this recipe helps spread joy to other families in the new year.

You can try this recipe on page 41 of the cookbook.

© UNHCR / Darren Calabrese

Dikran’s creative talents beyond the kitchen

© UNHCR / Chris Young

Dikran, a self-proclaimed foodie, has many passions that guide him in life. Besides cooking delicious Armenian and Syrian recipes, Dikran will also soon be celebrating the completion of his degree in Graphic design at Seneca College. Having been exposed to Armenian, Syrian, Lebanese, and Canadian cultures, Dikran uses his past experiences and knowledge of different cultures in his graphic art. You can see more of his creations here! Read Dikran’s story on page 45 of the cookbook.

© UNHCR / Chris Young

Aya Wadi’s hope for her family

© UNHCR / David Jackson

Syrian refugee Aya Wadi, just 24, has helped start two businesses in Canada: a catering company and a restaurant. Though Aya, her mom Duha Shaar, and the rest of their family decided to open a business for some of the usual reasons — a career, to share their culture with others, to settle in the community — there was a specific reason they opened up the restaurant. It is part of a plan to help bring her brother to Canada. Aya’s brother is currently in Germany, and they hope to raise enough money to bring him over to be with the rest of the family. “We know Canada is a good place to live in,” Aya says, smiling. Read Aya’s story on page 56 of the cookbook.

Rivka and Kat’s Relationship

© UNHCR / Christinne Muschi
Rivka’s mother, Liba. © Rivka Augenfeld

Rivka is on a journey to revive her late mother’s recipes. To help her in the process, Kat Romanow, founder of The Wandering Chew, is sharing her expertise on Jewish cuisine. Together, Rivka and Kat are promoting the diversity of Jewish cooking and preserving the recipe’s Liba, Rivka’s mother, left behind after surviving the holocaust. In “Tastes from Home” you can learn how to bake two of Liba’s signature dishes! Read Liba and Rivka’s story on page 67 of the cookbook.

Paul Mates’ love of jazz fuels his cooking

© UNHCR / Chris Young

Paul Mates is a former refugee from Romania. His wife, Sara, works with UNHCR Canada and knew that he would be a perfect fit for “Tastes from Home”. Paul is a big jazz enthusiast — while he was prepping his recipes for the cookbook, he played jazz from a little speaker in his kitchen. It made for a comforting environment for both Paul and the UNHCR Canada staff! We are also excited to share some photos from Paul’s family archives.

Read Pauls’ story on page 72 of the cookbook.

© Paul Mates

The Right Hon. Adrienne Clarkson’s storied past

© The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson

Since arriving in Canada in 1941 as a refugee, Adrienne Clarkson has occupied different positions. As a journalist, she interviewed people from around the world and shared these stories to Canadian audiences. As the 26th Governor General, and the first visible minority to hold the position, Madame Clarkson held the oldest public office position in the country between 1999–2005. Since then, she has co-founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship to help new citizens in Canada integrate into Canadian life. In “Tastes from Home”, she shares her experience arriving in Canada as a small child and insightful instructions to cook a perfectly poached chicken.

You can read The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson’s story on page 83.

Faisal’s cinematic debut

© UNHCR / Hilary Gauld Camilleri

Recent graduate Faisal Mohammed is a man of many talents. Five years ago, he acted in a touring play to raise awareness of the difficult challenges Rohingya refugees face. This play eventually became an award-winning documentary titled “I Am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts”, featuring 14 Rohingya refugees’ escape from Burma. You can learn more about the film here.

Read Faisal’s story on page 87 of the cookbook.

The Pham Family’s Contribution

© UNHCR / Hailey Cox

Pam arrived in Canada in 1986 after fleeing Vietnam. In the cookbook, she shares what it was like arriving in Canada at 20 years old and 6-months pregnant with her first child. From her home in British Columbia, she also shared a few savoury Vietnamese recipes. Fun fact: the pictures of Pam featured in the cookbook were taken by her daughter, Hailey Cox!

You can see Hailey’s pictures and read Pam’s story on page 91.

Lucila and Erla Cabrera: An inspiring mother-daughter duo

© UNHCR / Blair Gable

Lucila Cabrera has a special connection to UNHCR Canada. Her daughter, Erla, was a part of the UNHCR communications team, where she helped fundraise for UNHCR’s life-saving aid. Erla was almost as excited as Lucila — a former refugee from El Salvador — to be in the cookbook. On the day of its release, she tweeted that it was a “proud daughter moment” as she posted about her mom’s contribution to the cookbook. Lucila and Erla also shared some family pictures.

Read Lucila’s story on page 100 of the cookbook.

© Lucila Cabrera

Yasmen De Leon gives back to Canada


Yasmen De Leon had a difficult childhood, fleeing Mexico multiple times to find safety with her family. After she settled in Canada, she knew she didn’t want anyone else to feel unsafe or in need. Now, she operates a food bank out of her restaurant Comal y Canela in Toronto. “I want to give back to Canada what Canada gave to me,” she says. The night UNHCR Canada filmed its virtual “Cooking with Yas” fundraiser event was also food bank distribution night. It was clear how much Yasmen cared for both the refugees she was fundraising for and those from her community who came to the food bank. Yasmen has also shared some photo from her past.

Read Yasmen’s story on page 108 of the cookbook.

© Yasmen De Leon

Thank you to our photographers, writer and designer!

The mouth-watering images of the delicious meals in this cookbook would not be possible without the talents of Deirdre Doyle and Vipoositha Gnanenthra. Thank you for taking the time to capture such beautiful images full of meaning. Their ability to translate the cultural and personal significance of these recipes to page were an integral part of the success of this project.

© Deirdre Doyle (left), © UNHCR (right)

We’d also like to thank the photographers who captured all the portraits of our contributors: Christinne Muschi, David Jackson, Hilary Gauld Camilleri, Hailey Cox, Blair Gable, Darren Calabrese and Chris Young.

© Aileen Doyle (left), © Alyssa Yuhas (right)

Our writer Aileen Doyle spent countless hours and days researching, interviewing, writing, and filming the participants in the cookbook. Our most heartfelt thanks for her hard work! Designer Alyssa Yuhas was also an integral part of making the ‘Tastes from Home’ cookbook as functional as it is beautiful. Thank you, Alyssa!

Download your free cookbook today

Tastes from Home: Recipes from the Refugee Community” includes over 100 pages of stunning photography, delicious recipes, and stories of resilience from former refugees living here in Canada. For every copy downloaded, an anonymous donor will be donating to UNHCR to support refugees and their families. Make sure to prepare a meal from our free cookbook and post it on social media with the hashtag #CookWithRefugees.



UNHCR Canada

The UN Refugee Agency in Canada is dedicated to providing life-saving support to refugees, displaced and stateless people.