Dori with her team by Marianne MillsDori (former team leader) with Sri (left) and Nirma (right) – image by Marianne Mills

 

Tamil Feasts is a Melbourne based social enterprise that supports recently settled asylum seekers through the celebration of food and culture. Serving up traditional Sri Lankan fare prepared by Tamil men currently seeking asylum in Australia, these thrice-weekly feasts provide these men with employment and hospitality experience. The feasts also offer diners a unique and humbling food and cultural experience.

The weekly three-course Tamil feast dinners are held every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night in the Merri Table Café at 7:00pm. The cost for adults is $30, and childrens meals are catered for too, at $20. Pre-book your Tamil Feast here and enjoy this lovely q&a with the Tamil Feasts team (namely with Dori Ellington, the former project team leader, and Molly Haglund, the current project leader).

Note: Want your Tamil Feast to go a bit longer?  BYO take-away container and the Tamil Feasts staff will fill it up for you, for a donation of only $5.

JC x

(updated April 2017)

 

1.     Could you tell us a bit about the team and who the men behind the Tamil Feasts are? 

Tamil Feasts is a social food project focusing on the celebration, joy and diversity that asylum seekers bring to Australia, gathering people to share in a traditional Tamil banquet.  Tamil Feasts began in April of 2015 a few months after Sri and Nirma, 2 Tamil men who had been detained in mandatory detention in Australia for over 6 years, had been released from Broadmeadows Detention Centre.

 

2.     Where did you meet and how did the idea of  The Tamil Feasts come about?

I (Dori Ellington – former Tamil Feasts team leader), had been visiting them for over a year in detention, and every time I would see them and their Tamil crew, they would always greet me with spicy curries, bhaji, fresh salads and other delights not found ANYWHERE in Melbourne.  So, when Sri and Nirma got out we decided to get together and hold 2 feasts at CERES in East Brunswick.  These feasts sold out in 5 days.

 

Tamil Feasts fritters by Marianne MillsThe Bhaji – image by Marianne Mills


3.
     Would you be able to briefly tell us a little bit about each of their stories?

Each of these resilient and hilarious men has a different story that they share with diners on the night.  The focus of Tamil Feasts is to allow the space for diners and the guys to connect in a communal, inviting and warm way.  Food has the capacity to do this.  Food is our most common denominator – we all love good food and it is a way for Australians to show up and say, ‘hey we support you!” and a way for the guys to see that and share their stories; good, bad, ugly and future!

 

4.     What change have you seen in the boys since their involvement in the Tamil Feasts?

Confidence, new friendships and pride.  While it would be sooooooo easy for Tamil Feasts to have the same menu week after week – Sri, Nirma, Niro and Nigethan insist on changing it up for the customers! And everything must be absolutely perfect! “If they’re happy, we are happy” and it is pretty rare to have a plate come back with food on it… so everyone is happy.  At the beginning, Sri was a bit quiet and never really left the kitchen area, but now he does heaps on the hospitality side and the first person to tell/force people to come and get seconds!  Nirma has always had a way with words and business – but as time goes on he really owns Tamil Feasts and its direction, its future.  Niro is the impromptu volunteer coordinator – Tamil Feasts relies heavily on volunteers – and he never shy’s away from being the one who welcomes and introduces new faces to the space and to protocols.  Nigethan, our newest member, keeps a keen eye on stock levels and production costs. It is an amazingly well rounded team – everyone really works well together and looks out for each other and the project tremendously!

 

Tamil platter by by Marianne MillsWhat you can expect to see on a Tamil Feasts feast plate – image by Marianne Mills

 

5.     What is unique about the food served at the Tamil Feasts and what kind of dishes can we expect?

Tamil food is a complete taste sensation – spicy, sweet, bitter, so-much-coconut! So many fresh curry leaves! The BHAJI!!!!

Flavours you will never ever expect – small subtleties that surprise! Everything about Tamil cooking has an order and healing to it – much unlike our western way of eating.  What is prepared is medicine for your body and the way it is served it is aligned with your tastebuds, your senses.

 

6.     Are there any other social food projects and initiatives around Melbourne that you respect and admire?

My absolute favourite/role model/guru is Hanna and the crew from Moroccan Soup Bar and now Moroccan Deli-cacy.  She was leading the social food project way back in the day with beautiful food and beautiful people. We all adore her work and what she has done, and continues to do for marginalised people.

 

7.     What are some ways that we can all directly help asylum seekers or refugees in similar circumstances as these Tamil men?

Melbourne is amazing and welcoming – there are many ways to get involved and directly support asylum seekers and refugees.  Other programs that are incredible and can directly help asylum seekers or refugees are any SCARF dinners, CERES Seven Stars Catering, The Community Grocer, ASRC Food TruckSorgum Sisters Catering, Spicelicious Spice Shop, Cultivating Community, CERES Fair Food, Friends of Refugees Catering, Long Street Coffee, ASRC Catering, Feast of Merit, Shebeen, and The Social Studio.

 

 

Rice by by Marianne MillsThe spice colourful rice served at Tamil Feasts – image by Marianne Mills

 

8.     What is next for Tamil Feasts and do you think you will ever open a bricks and mortar restaurant?

A cafe is the dream we all believe will become a reality. It’s something we would love to see happen in the future. We see more opportunities for more individuals seeking asylum and more people in the community being able to connect with the asylum seeker community.  But for now, we’re looking to expand in other ways – more nights at CERES, more big events, and expanding the catering arm.  So many beautiful things have happened in such a relatively short amount of time.  So we will keep moving in steady pace, one meal at a time.

(Images by Marianne Mills of Millshoist Photography)

 

Website: http://ceres.org.au/tamil-feasts/

Facebook: Tamil Feasts

Instagram: @tamilfeasts