International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Chefs Marco Canora and Michel Nischan savor refugee cultures at New Roots garden

A warm welcome spiked with hot chili peppers was on the menu yesterday afternoon as two master chefs visited the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots farm at Drew Gardens in the Bronx.

Burmese refugee Ah Lun, 30, greeted chefs Michel Nischan and Marco Canora and took them on a tour of the gardens to meet other refugee farmers and see their produce. 
 
Nischan, a sustainable food pioneer who heads the nonprofit organization Wholesome Wave, and Canora, well-known for his restaurants Hearth and Terroir in New York's East Village, were clearly impressed by the bounty the refugees had cultivated on the two-acre urban oasis.
Michel Nischan snaps a photo of the New Roots garden with his phone

Michel Nischan snaps a picture to share on Twitter as Marco Canora and Ah Lun check out a bounty of vegetables grown by refugee farmers.  

Photo: John Milano

 
Posting a photo of his visit on Twitter from his phone, Nischan tweeted, “Refugee farmers express their delicious cultures through great food.”
 
IRC gardens like this one, tucked under the Cross-Bronx Expressway, are helping refugees put down “new roots” by growing and selling nutritious fruits and vegetables. The New Roots program also helps refugees stay connected to the agricultural traditions they’ve brought from their own countries.
 
After the tour, Ah Lun invited the chefs to help him prepare tom yum, a hot and sour Thai soup that he came to love while working as a cook in Malaysia. They took turns stirring the ingredients — including garden-grown chilis, tomatoes and scallions — into a rich chicken broth studded with mushrooms.
 
Marco Canora, Michel Nischan and Ah Lun sample tom yum soup at New Roots garden
The chefs sample tom yum  they prepared with Ah Lun on the New Roots garden's deck overlooking the Bronx River. The hot and sour Thai soup features lemongrass and chilis.

Photo: John Milano 
Ah Lun shared some of his tips for making traditional tom yum, explaining that the secret to drawing out the peppery flavor of the chilis, and not just their heat, is to crush them before slicing them.  Sous chef for the day Marco Canora added the authentic finishing touches to the soup: a dash of Thai fish sauce, a squeeze of fresh lime, and a sprinkling of cilantro.
 
“That’s perfect. I love it – spicy!” exclaimed the other honorary sous chef, Michel Nischan, after tasting a spoonful from the bubbling pot.  Turning to Ah Lun, he asked, “How do you say ‘delicious’ in Burmese?”
 

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