Cooked-up on Capitol Hill, Project Feast breaks new culinary ground by employing refugees

(Image: Project Feast)

(Image: Project Feast)

The mix of ingredients that created the nonprofit Project Feast were practically ready-made: a growing number of women refugees looking for work in a city whose residents have an insatiable hunger for culinary adventure and a soft spot for good causes. All that was needed was Veena Prasad to put it all together with a “social enterprise” that employs those refugee women by using a skill set many already have: cooking delicious meals from their native countries.

“We start with ‘what do these women know how to do,'” Prasad said.”Looking at people’s strengths is very important in our mission”

Project Feast is a catering business with a cause. First, the organization trains women to get their food handlers card, which includes navigating the relatively superfluous rules of a U.S. commercial kitchen. Second, Project Feast employs some of those women as cooks in the nonprofit’s catering business where menus consist of classic dishes from places like Iraq, Sudan, and Burma. In just six months the nonprofit has helped 70 women get their food handlers card and has trained 10 others to work catered events.

Project Feast is also breaking into some new food territory — quite a feat in a foodie haven like Seattle. Prasad hopes one day some of her Project Feast graduates will spin off into opening their own catering service or restaurant.

On December 9th, Project Feast will be holding an event featuring food from the Philippines with proceeds to go to the typhoon relief effort.

Earlier this month Project Feast was awarded more that $50K in cash and services at this years Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch Seattle event. Fast Pitch is a granting and investment forum that awards money to innovative startup companies and nonprofits aimed at making a social impact. This year Project Feast was awarded a first place cash prize for best young nonprofit and another cash prize from the Women’s Funding Alliance.

The Project Feast kitchen is in SODO, but the nonprofit HQ can be found at Capitol Hill’s coworking space Office Nomads. Prasad has been a member at Nomads for two years and developed the idea for Project Feast while collaborating with other members last year (full disclosure: CHS is a Nomads member).

If you don’t have upcoming plan for an Iraqi/Burmese catered event, you can still get involved with Project Feast by attending a cooking class led by some of its members. Prasad has plans for a cookbook, too.

Winning at this year’s Fast Pitch was a full circle for Prasad and Project Feast. Last year Prasad entered the contest after only having a few weeks to prepare. She didn’t win any prizes, but she said the feedback enabled her to hone the idea. Before last year’s event’ Prasad’s initial idea was to employ refugee women to cook on food trucks that specialized in their native cuisine. She eventually opted for the non-profit model after discovering the start-up costs would be too high.

Born in Bangalore, India, Prasad said it wasn’t until she moved to Seattle as an adult that she became interested in cooking. After finishing her MBA in 2010, Prasad didn’t want to go back to working for a large corporation. Given her new found interest in the food of her childhood, she lauched Veena’s Market. The online cooking resource sells Indian recipes with accompanying spice kits. The site has been dormant for the past year while Veena has moved on to working full time at Project Feast.

Prasad said she couldn’t be happier with her move to the non-profit.

“We have seen their confidence go up. They realize they have skills that people are interested in,” she said. “When (the women) see how much people like the food, the have a sense of pride, they feel they’re being respected for who they are.”

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