Prepare for a Feast

Posted in Restaurant on Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The beloved Spokane nonprofit spotlights a different “International Chef Partner” every day - meaning that Spokane foodies get to try authentic cuisine from all around the globe, all under one roof.

Prepare for a Feast

AT FEAST WORLD KITCHEN in Spokane, Chef Maria Isabel Varela rolled out a ball of pastry dough, adding a thin layer of chilled butter and then folding it around itself.

"It's kind of like a diaper," said the chef, a mother of seven, with a laugh. She repeated this process five times before rolling out thin squares of dough and filling them with a mixture of sweet Washington-grown cherries, sugar, and lime.

Varela's homemade Mexican pastries, called volovanes, emerged from the oven crispy, flaky, and delicious, bursting with the tart sweetness of the cherries. Varela, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, learned how to make the delicate volovanes from her mother before she died.

"I've been in the kitchen my whole life, since day one, because my mom was a chef," she said. "What I prepared today, that's something that I learned from her."

Varela was the featured chef when the Washington Grown team visited Feast World Kitchen in Season 11. The nonprofit restaurant features a rotating list of refugee and immigrant chefs, and so far, it has collaborated with about 100 chefs from all over the world.

"We covered five continents," said Maisa Abudahya, the co-executive director of Feast, who was an asylum seeker from Jordan. She said Feast was created to help talented chefs from other countries learn the business side of cooking and become entrepreneurs.

"Our mission in the beginning was to help those people open their businesses," she said, "but we don't want to push anyone to this step until they are 100% ready for it."

Varela, who has cooked at Feast several times, said this was her ultimate plan as well.

"I would love to open a place," she said. "That's one of my goals."

According to its mission statement, Feast uses "international cuisine as a platform for economic resilience, holistic growth, and culture-sharing." Many of the people in leadership roles are former refugees and immigrants, and more than three-fourths of the restaurant's paid staff are people of color. Feast is dedicated to welcoming refugees and immigrants and helping them become community leaders, according to the restaurant.

"Feast is helping empower immigrants and refugees to feel at home in Spokane," said Sue Reidt, the chair of Feast's board, "to make a livelihood here, and to hopefully help them feel welcome through this community that we have through food and culture."

When Varela was the featured chef at Feast, customers couldn't say enough good things about her cooking — and her volovanes.

"It all goes together really nicely," said one diner. "It's a delight to eat."

Varela says you can taste when something is made from scratch, and it makes a difference.

"I think that's what makes it special and more fresh — and, you know, the love we put into it," she said. "Because I put in a lot of love when I bake, when I cook."

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