Mazí Mas is a social enterprise dedicated to supporting and employing migrant and refugee women. We are roaming restaurant that serves global home cooking in the heart of London and we are crowdfunding to support a new restaurant at Ovalhouse.
If I think I wouldn’t have met Niki and had Mazí Mas and everything that came from it, would be a big gap in my life, big gap. Millions of things came from it…. It’s more than an organisation, it’s a kind of a special aura about it, yeah. You come under this kind of big mantle, like something covering us. It’s magical, you don’t know how to describe it. And it’s a wonderful unique, super vital opportunity for women.
Roberta Siao, Mazí Mas chef
Who we are & what we do
Mazí Mas is a social enterprise dedicated to supporting women from migrant and refugee communities. We provide opportunities for women who aspire to careers in the food industry to gain paid work experience, develop their skills, tell their stories, and connect with the wider public.
We cook the kind of food we love to eat: simple, full of flavour, and rooted in rich cultural traditions. We source our produce from farms around London, and pride ourselves on using local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients – not because it’s fashionable, but because it’s how our mothers taught us to cook.
At Mazí Mas we work with women who have been out of the labour market for many years and struggle to find work, for a number of reasons. First, because they are mothers who have interrupted their careers to have children, and find that they cannot get a job when they try to go back to work (lack of recent employment history is the number one deterrent in hiring). Second, because they encounter racial discrimination, or are passed over because they speak imperfect or accented English. Third, because they lack professional networks, which are essential to the who-you-know recruitment system that most of the job market operates on. And finally – and this is something we see a lot – because their foreign qualifications are not recognised, or not regarded highly enough for them to be considered for the jobs they had in their countries of origins. A lot of women, having moved to Britain under difficult circumstances for a better life for themselves and their children, find that here they are only qualified for cleaning jobs.
But then you start talking to people and then when I said, oh now, yeah, I should start, then people say, don’t bother, there are no jobs for you. There are no jobs between school time, there are no jobs that they want you ‘cause you have no skills, there are no jobs. They just put you off completely – there are no jobs for you. You can’t do anything. No one’s going to give you a job.
Roberta Siao, Mazí Mas chef
Mazí Mas recognises that the transition from long-term unemployment to full-time employment is a very difficult one, especially for migrant and refugee women. We seek to break the cycle of unemployment by offering intensive, holistic support at a time when women most need it. The Mazí Mas model combines paid work experience, employment support and access to professional networks, skills training, and a supportive social network to build women’s confidence, enhance their employability, increase access to job opportunities, and improve their wellbeing. So far all of our chefs have secured further employment in the food industry through their work with Mazí Mas, and three are in the process of developing their ideas for food businesses.
Mazí Mas at Ovalhouse
On March 17th, we will be opening a new restaurant at Ovalhouse Theatre in south London, which will run through the end of May 2015. This project builds on previous residencies at The Yard Theatre, and will serve wonderful global home cooking to you, the public, five nights a week, and provide part-time employment to five women from migrant and refugee communities.
This is a very exciting project for a number of reasons. First, because it allows us to offer our chefs more paid work than ever before. Second, because for the first time we will be running a training programme alongside the commercial restaurant, so that they can go on to jobs in the food industry when the project is over. And finally, because this residency is a pilot for what is to come – the permanent restaurant that we’ve been dreaming of since the beginning.
The Ovalhouse restaurant will provide 16 hours of paid employment weekly to five women, and a further 4 hours of weekly training to ten women. Unlike other social enterprise restaurants, the purpose of our training programme is not to train women in cooking – they are experts with a lifetime of experience – but rather to formalise and develop their skills, so that they are able to confidently translate their knowledge to professional catering settings. Our goal is to support all of our chefs to find permanent employment, or to embark on the journey of setting up their own food businesses.
How you can help
The Mazí Mas restaurant at Ovalhouse is an ambitious project. We've secured a third of the funding we need through a grant from the London Community Foundation (funded by Comic Relief), and a third will come from trading revenue. The final third is why we're here.
Rather than rely on any single donor, we’re asking all of you, our supporters, to give a little to help make this project a reality. You’ll not only be helping this project come to life, but you’ll also be helping us build it in the way that is truly Mazí Mas: together, as a community.
Here's where the £15,000 will go:
The story of Mazí Mas
Mazí Mas starts with the story of one woman.
Maria Marouli grew up on the island of Evia in Greece and married a carpenter. After the military coup in 1967, they moved to the United States with their two teenage children. They went wherever Maria’s husband could find work: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Chicago, New Jersey, and, finally, New York City. By the time they settled in Astoria, the Greek part of Queens, their children were out of the house and Maria was spending most of her time alone.
With only a primary school education and rudimentary English Maria wasn’t qualified for most jobs, and in any event was expected to have dinner on the table when her husband got home from work. She loved America, but even after fifteen years it felt just beyond her reach. She wanted to be part of it. She wanted to open a bakery.
It never happened. Her husband wouldn’t hear of it. Women did not go into business, he said. They took care of children. So Maria answered an ad in the Greek newspaper for a nanny, and started caring for a two-month-old baby girl.
A quarter century later, that baby girl – now a woman – found herself in London. Her passion for food and cooking, instilled in childhood by her godmother Maria, led her to volunteer in community kitchens all over London. There, she met many women like her godmother: migrant women who could not find work, or did not have the right to work, and had little support to help them find their feet in a new place. They came to volunteer because they wanted to put their culinary skills to use, meet new people, and give back to their communities. And, overwhelmingly, these women dreamed of one day opening their own small food businesses.
Mazí Mas was founded to help guide these dreams to fulfillment: to make possible for other women what was not possible for Maria. Our vision is of a world in which women are full, equal, and independent participants in public life; their care work valued, their voices heard, and their skill rewarded.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Roberta was born in Rio de Janeiro. She has loved cooking since she was a child, when she used to conduct barbeque experiments in the backyard of her family home over a couple of bricks and a wood fire. She moved to London after meeting her husband, leaving behind a job at the Central Bank of Brazil. She has a son, Thomas, who now accompanies her on her culinary explorations of London’s markets, cafés, and food festivals. She believes that food is about nourishing, caring, and sharing, and is fundamental to a life well-lived. “Together, sharing food and love, life becomes more meaningful. That’s what Mazí Mas is all about for me.”
Zohreh was born and raised in Tehran. She studied art in Iran, and moved to the UK to pursue a degree in Design at Coventry University. She became interested in cooking because she loves to eat (“I’m very greedy!”), and enjoyed it so much that she started a small food business selling Iranian sandwiches. Zohreh sees cooking as a kind of art, where the pan becomes your canvas and the colours of the dish are added with spices and herbs. She would like to open her own Iranian coffee shop in London, where she is now living with her son. She loves that at Mazí Mas different chefs, each from a different country, with a different language and different cultures, come together to cook food that can’t be found anywhere else.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Azeb was born and raised in Addis Ababa, and lived in Italy for 17 years before moving to the UK. She has a diploma in Accounting but her passion has always been food, having grown up in a big family where food brought everyone together. Azeb worked in both Ethiopian and Italian restaurants whilst living in Italy, and her lasagne is as exceptional as her doro wet. Her life changed in 2000 with the birth of her son Jonathan, whose education eventually led her to London. Azeb loves discovering new cuisines and trying recipes she has learned from her fellow Mazí Mas chefs, and hopes to open an Ethiopian coffee shop in London.
Aissatou was born in a village called Meckhé and grew up in Dakar. She planned to study law at university but instead joined her husband in the UK, where he had gotten a teaching job. Aissatou learned to cook Senegalese food from her mother and sister at a very young age; but it was here in London, when she found herself cooking every day for her family, that she decided to make it her profession. What most excites Aissatou about food is that it helps people get to know about her country. Her dream is to have a restaurant in Senegal. “For me, Mazí Mas is a place where happiness, lovely women and authentic dishes all combine to create a successful business.”
Marlith Tenazoa Del Aguila
Marlith was born and raised in the Peruvian Amazon. She was a successful food entrepreneur in Peru for many years before emigrating to Spain and finally moving to London in 2012. She has always enjoyed cooking and sees food as a reason to bring together family and friends. Working with Mazí Mas has helped her access the London food scene and launch her catering business, Cocina Peru. She values being part of the Mazí Mas team, and enjoys having the opportunity to learn and to share what has been collectively achieved.
Ezgi is half Syrian and half Turkish. She was born in a city where the food was dominated by Arabic culture – couscous, chilli, sun dried tomato and pepper paste, kebab, yogurt and tahini featured daily. She sees a strong connection between food and culture. Her Turkish mother taught her how to be a tidy, organised cook and her father gave the skills to reproduce rustic Syrian flavours. For Ezgi, cooking is about community, helping each other and sharing food. These are the values she is now passing on to her two children.
Susana grew up in Iquitos, in the middle of the Peruvian rainforest. At age twenty-two she emigrated to Spain, where she lived for twenty years. She and her husband then moved to Orlando, Florida, where she worked as a chef at a Jewish-American community centre. She was hired specifically because she cooked Peruvian food, which everyone loved. Susana has been living in London since 2012. She has raised three sons as well as her nephew, and they have all followed her to London. She enjoys London because of its ethnic diversity and also because she likes that English people are very polite!
Baguio City, Philippines
Born in the Philippines, Jamima started cooking at age eight, and a few years later became responsible for feeding her whole family. They could not afford seasonings, so she strove to create unforgettable meals with the limited ingredients available to her. Jamima came to the UK as a political refugee. She persevered through initial difficult years to take up studies in Politics and Sociology and now works works part-time for Kanlungan, a charity that supports the empowerment of migrant Filipinos in the UK. Jamima prefers cooking and eating at home, or at the home of friends, to eating in restaurants; in her words, “home cooked food heals wounds