Chef Diaa Alhanoun sharpens his knives between serving customers, while skewered pieces of cooked chicken and beef known, or "shawarma," are kept warm at his restaurant Sakib, in New York. A Syrian refugee fleeing civil war at home, Alhanoun, his wife and four children arrived in the U.S. from Jordan in 2016. Less than three years later Alhanoun and a partner opened a small restaurant in Brooklyn's trendy Williamsburg neighborhood. Diaa Alhanoun, a Syrian refugee chef, smiles broadly while grinding meat in preparation for the 2019 Refugee Food Festival at Porsena, an East Village Italian restaurant, in New York. A festival veteran, Alhanoun participated for his second year along with other refugee chefs from Eat Offbeat who served meals at other local New York restaurants. Eat Offbeat is a refugee-staffed catering company where Alhanoun worked before opening his own restaurant. Diaa Alhanoun, right, watches his business partner Mohammad Ayasrah, left, and son Nader, 18, hang a sign detailing their restaurant's extensive Mediterranean menu, in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, days before the restaurant's opening. The menu features regional favorites. Everything on the menu is made by Alhanoun and Ayasrah. Desserts are prepared by Alhanoun's wife in the couple's home. Diaa Alhanoun, a refugee escaping war-torn Syria who has only been in the United States three years, carries a 40-pound bag of rice on his shoulders and bottles of mayonnaise while yelling instructions to his partner as the pair prepare for the opening of their restaurant Sakib, in New York. The restaurant, which features typical Mediterranean appetizers and dishes, is located along a main street in trendy Williamsburg, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. People rush past Sakib Mediterranean restaurant, co-owned by Syrian refugee Diaa Alhanoun and his partner, in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, in New York. Alhanoun's partner Mohammad Ayasrah is visible through the window, left, speaking on his phone. With shoes removed as is customary, Syrian refugee chef Diaa Alhanoun prays on a carpet facing Mecca in the basement kitchen of Sakib, his Williamsburg, Brooklyn restaurant, in New York. An observant Muslim Alhanoun prays up to five times a day, observing the ritual movements and as his religion requires. Syrian refugee and restaurant owner Diaa Alhanoun holds his young daughter, Masa, then 21 months, while offering his wife's homemade cookies to passers-by outside his restaurant, Sakib, on it's opening night, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in New York. Of all the places he’s lived, Alhanoun thinks New Yorkers have liked his food the most, and he’s hopeful about what the future could hold as he builds a new life here. In preparation for the Refugee Food Festival, chef Diaa Alhanoun rolls out ground meat while preparing kibbeh, in New York, in the kitchen at Porsena, an East Village Italian restaurant hosting Alhanoun for the annual event. A global initiative to help refugees integrate into their adopted communities, the festival takes place in major cities with the goal of introducing refugee chefs and their cuisine to local residents. Kibbeh meatballs are a made of ground beef, bulgur wheat, and onions, seasoned with cinnamon and allspice, formed into a hollow shell for stuffing, then deep fried or baked. Chef Diaa Alhanoun, left, pours yoghurt sauce over kibbeh, a traditional Mediterranean recipe containing seasoned ground beef or lamb dumplings, as chefs Lauren Radel, center, and Alfredo Medel watch in the kitchen at Porsena, while preparing for the 2019 Refugee Food Festival in New York. The goal of the global food festival, held once a year in major cities, hopes to call attention to refugee chefs and their culinary talents, raise awareness about the refugee cause, and encourage refugee integration in their host countries. Diaa Alhanoun, third from right, rear, watches as his co-chefs, restaurant manager and restaurant staff sample the Middle Eastern meal he prepared for dinner guests at Porsena, an Italian restaurant in the East Village, in New York, as part of the Refugee Food Festival. Offered for one night only at Porsena and other restaurants in the city, the food festival promotes acceptance of refugees in their host countries. Chef Lauren Radel, who helped curate the meal, is shown, far left joined by co-chef Alfredo Medel, far right. Restaurant manager Ian McRae, samples the food, second right. A special menu for the Refugee Food Festival sits on a candle-lit table at Porsena, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan's East Village, to inform diners of the Mediterranean specialties that will be served for just one night, in New York. The annual global festival promotes refugee chefs like Syrian refugee Diaa Alhanoun, noted as "Chef Diaa," on the menu. It is the second consecutive year Alhanoun has prepared a meal for Porsena's patrons. Fatima Kwara, left, wife of Syrian refugee chef and co-owner Diaa Alhanoun, holds the couple's young daughter Masa, while chatting with her sister, Aminah Kwara, center, and daughter Ragad, in New York, at the opening of "Sakib" in Brooklyn's trendy Williamsburg neighborhood. Virtually all of Alhanoun's friends, colleagues and extended family attended the opening, as well as passers-by, who were welcomed into the restaurant and ate for free, courtesy of the owners. Refugee chef Diaa Alhanoun takes a break while preparing a special meal for the Refugee Food Festival held at Porsena, an East Village Italian restaurant that has hosted Alhanoun and his Mediterranean specialties for two consecutive years, in New York. The citizen-led festival is held in major cities across the globe each summer to promote refugee chefs and refugee causes. During the event, participating restaurants open their kitchens to chefs like Alhanoun to introduce food from the chefs' home countries to residents of their adopted country. Diaa Alhanoun, right, a Syrian refuge chef, slumps into the couch at home while talking to his brother, now living in Jordan after fleeing Syria during the country's civil war, as Alhanoun's wife, Fatima Kwara plays with their young daughter, Masa, at the family's Staten Island home in New York. Masa, which means "Diamond," was born in the United States. After arriving home from work, Diaa Alhanoun, right, a Syrian refuge chef, pauses to pray, with his two sons, Nader, 18, left, and Owys, 9, rear, in striped shirt, as Alhanoun's young daugher Masa, imitates the trio, in New York. According to Muslim religious tradition, men and women pray separately, but Masa is too young to understand the concept.
November 02, 2019
He was right — he's now cooking up a storm in a place of his own. Sakib is a small outpost in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, where Alhanoun turns out the Mediterranean food he learned to cook as a teen.
Alhanoun had left Syria in 2012. He and his family had been living in Jordan when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees resettled them in the U.S. in 2016. Of all the places he's lived, Alhanoun thinks New Yorkers have liked his food the most.
Deepti Hajela covers issues of immigration, race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/dhajela . For more of her work, search for her name at https://apnews.com.