Sitting down after an evening of cooking up a storm, Hamed is exhausted, but happy. “People are happy at the end of the meal when they enjoy my food. If I’m tired after cooking, when I hear this it gives me great energy.”
After arriving in the West from Tehran, he initially struggled to find his feet, but soon found that food was a universal language. He secured work with Free to Feed, and began volunteering at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Footscray.
“Free to Feed gave me my first paid job with no need for references. It’s been my dream to show people my Persian food and tell my story about my homeland. I have done 148 cooking classes in the last 20 months”.
“(The ASRC is) somewhere where you can meet to talk with new people and share your story. What I love about the ASRC is that there are so many different people from all around the world, who care about each other”.
Hamed’s food often harks back to his family traditions.
“Both my mother and father are good cooks. I use their dishes in my classes which gives me happiness. I love to tell people about my culture and traditions, it's all new to them so I love to share with them my story”.
The future is looking bright for Hamed.
“I volunteer at the ASRC as a cook and now manage a large team for their food program. It feels so great, I love it, especially when we don’t have enough volunteers in the kitchen I’m the one that cooks, I love that! I also want to open a tea shop along with my popular Persian dishes soon.
For now though, he’s happy cooking in and for the West.
“(People in the West) do a great job and they care about people and help people where they can, they have good hearts.
“There’s hope for everyone in the West”
Learn to cook Hamed's Jewelled Rice
Serves 6-8 generously
3 cups (470g) basmati rice, washed and soaked in cold water for 3 hours
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp of olive oil
1 piece Lebanese bread
125g unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup dried barberries, washed
1tsp saffron threads
Pinch of sugar
1 1/2 tbsp sliced pistachio
Bring a large pot of water to boil over a high heat. Drain the rice and add it to the pot along with the salt. Cook until just tender but still undercooked, around 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Place a large pot over a high heat and pour in 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Place the round of Lebanese bread directly into the base of the pot then tumble the half-cooked rice into the pot and dot the butter on top of the rice. Cover the pot with a tea towel–wrapped lid and cook for 1 minute on high, then reduce the heat to low and continue to cook for a further 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a pan over a low heat and gently fry the barberries for 2 minutes and set aside. Grind the saffron with the sugar in a mortar and pestle and transfer to a small bowl. Dissolve with 3 tablespoons of boiling water.
Arrange the rice onto a serving platter and scatter with the barberries, saffron and pistachios along with the crunchy bread from the base of the pan.