Tables Across Borders, a local volunteer-led initiative, is featuring Ukrainian cuisine Aug. 8 at the Lazy Susan restaurant in Milwaukee. The event’s family of chefs are the Stanishevkas, from the local Jewish community.
The co-founder of Tables Across Borders, Kai Gardner-Mishlove, runs that initiative to highlight the cuisine of local refugee chefs.
The organization started when Gardner-Mishlove was a volunteer, assisting refugee families with navigating social services. The families she visited would offer her food and drink, in addition to their life experience.
“After visiting so many homes, I realized what a treasure it was for me to taste all this different food. In a week of visiting homes, I traveled the world — or at least my palette did,” she said. Gardner-Mishlove wanted to give Milwaukee residents the chance to travel the world too, so she collaborated with her restaurant-owner friends to create what she calls “global exploration.”
In the past, Tables has hosted chefs from Ethiopian, Afghan, Congolese, Syrian, Burmese, Somali, Rohingya, Eritrean, and Venezuelan refugee communities. “All of the dinners sell out,” at a 40 person capacity, Gardner-Mishlove said.
Saehee Chang, owner of a Korean food and culture business, helped Gardner Mishlove get started. Most support has come from the restaurants Lazy Susan, Amilinda, Tricklebee Cafè, Linden Sculpture Garden, and originally Tandem Restaurant. To find refugee chefs, Gardner-Mishlove relies on word of mouth and referrals.
Gardner-Mishlove explained that because Milwaukee is home to so many refugee communities, existing communities are constantly welcoming new ones. Everybody in between benefits from these connections as well, according to Gardner-Mishlove. “People will often re-meet each other from past dinners and see each other at future ones,” she said.
At each event, Gardner-Mishlove invites guests to present. For instance, Wisconsin Ukrainians United will educate guests at this upcoming event.
Tables Across Borders’ missions are to spread refugee issue awareness and advocacy, provide income, mentorship and empowerment for refugee chefs, and bring diverse communities together for dinner and discourse. For example, Tables Across Borders has brought together people from the opposite ends of the political spectrum over friendly meals.
“Most of the refugees come with careers that they left behind, so I’m hoping to bridge or at least open up networks for them to continue in the skills that they’re bringing,” Gardner-Mishlove said. According to Gardner-Mishlove, the chefs are invested in sharing why they had to leave their country and what they are hoping to accomplish here, while rebuilding their lives.
Tables Across Borders is also an opportunity for chefs to network and be mentored by restaurant owners; 100 percent of the proceeds go to the chefs. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Cultures and Communities, Hanan Refugee Relief and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Milwaukee Jewish Federation assist with sponsorship.
Tickets to the Aug. 8, 2022, 6 p.m., Lazy Susan event are $60 each, 2378 S Howell Ave. Visit Tables Across Borders on Facebook for more information.