Our chefs have moved to Missoula from all over the world—Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Take a moment to learn more about their stories and why cooking is so special to them. They have each enriched our community and we are so grateful that they share their incredible food with us.
Farida Abdul Aziz
Farida learned to cook from her grandmother and holds dear the many memories of working in the kitchen alongside her and her mother to prepare meals for their family, as well as frequent guests. She has always valued the time preparing and enjoying meals as a time to connect and talk with her children. Cooking is the way she shows the love and care she has to give for the people closest to her—her family, her children, and now you!
Having fled Afghanistan in 2014 to seek asylum in the US, Farida has been away from her children and her country for a little over 4 years. Following the approval of her asylum case, she now works hard on being reunited with her children whom she misses dearly. She feels that cooking with United We Eat has brought her joy and purpose as she has traveled this difficult road. With a kind and generous heart, she loves to share her culture and meet new people through cooking, and believes food can bring cultures and people closer.
Sahar is from Baghdad, Iraq and arrived in Missoula with her husband and two sons in March 2017. Her mother taught her everything in the kitchen when she was a young girl, growing up in a large family with seven other siblings. With this foundation, she continued to learn on her own as an adult because she enjoyed it so much. She loves that her cooking makes people happy and she feels confident and proud of her abilities to make a wonderful meal that she can share with friends and family. In the US, she feels an added benefit of being able to share her culture and hospitality with new friends that have come to be like family.
Here in Montana, she loves to spend time playing with her sons at Bonner Park and exploring other places in the state with family and friends, such as Flathead Lake. She would personally like to extend overwhelming gratitude to Tami and Jim Adams, and Kim and Mike Keast for their guidance and friendship since arriving in Missoula.
Merry is originally from Asmara, Eritrea and arrived in Missoula in 2017. Her mom taught her to cook as a young adult. She cooks because she believes it’s important to feed people while maintaining cultural traditions. “We [Eritreans] cook for anyone and everyone,” she says with a smile, “we don’t ask people if they want food, we serve them.” Eritrean food is rooted in warmth and spice and she enjoys sharing its unique and fresh flavors.
Merry has found a welcoming home here in Missoula and is excited to continue to meet new friends. She enjoys gathering at friends’ houses and sharing food, coffee, and conversation.
Wasan Amer has lived in Missoula with her husband and 2 young sons since October, 2016. Wasan’s mother was a spectacular cook and educator who began teaching Wasan how to cook all meals from scratch at 5 years of age, and they continued to cook together through the years. Wasan, who is also a teacher, finds great joy in cooking because she sees the joy it brings to others. While cooking for her family is very important to her, she is also excited to share with others as a way to connect with people through food and culture. Wasan believes that by sharing our food we share feelings and emotions, we create a shared history and the feeling that we are the same people.
Wasan and her husband Waleed have always felt the warmth of Missoulians since the moment they stepped off of the plane. She hopes people understand that her cooking is a means of expressing her appreciation to the people of Missoula and the people who support and love her family. One day Wasan hopes to open a small, mission driven restaurant to share her love of cooking and also serve underprivileged Missoulians.
Hanan Omar Al Omar
Hanan Omar Al Omar was born in Saudi Arabia. Twelve years ago she arrived in Pennsylvania with her family and spent two years studying English. After four years the family moved to Missoula so Hanan could begin work on a PhD in Education Leadership which she received from the University of Montana in 2017.
Hanan began to develop her love of cooking at 14 years of age when her mother started teaching her. Hanan still likes cooking and eating at home more than eating out, specializing in traditional Saudi Arabian foods. In recent years, even from halfway around the world, Skype has enabled Hanan to speak with her mother face to face and continue to benefit from her techniques and experience of spices. Her family loves her cooking and one of her four sons (she also has three daughters) is especially interested in learning to cook. He functions as Hanan’s own food critic, happily tasting her creations and advising on seasoning and flavor.
She has a great fondness for Missoula, especially when the snow falls because it is so different from the climate of Saudi Arabia. Hanan loves the friendliness of Missoula and the support Missoulians show one another. She spends her spare time reading and loves both Arabic and English language books.
Shatha Abdelbr and her husband Mohammed Kulof are originally from Homs, Syria and have lived with their son and daughter in Missoula since 2017.
As a teenager, Shatha began to cook with her mother. Traditional and popular Syrian dishes, such as vegetable dolmas, are her favorite foods to prepare and she loves developing the aromas, flavors, and textures popular in Syria. When she creates a meal Shatha hopes those she feeds will find her food to be a delicious culinary experience and that everyone will have a good time around the shared table.
Sewing is another one of Shatha’s passions. She taps into that through her work at a tailor’s shop in Missoula where her detail oriented and refined skills are noticed, bringing her frequent praise. Shatha is often found in her spare time at home behind her sewing machine. Though winters are a bit colder and snowier than she prefers, she has found the people of Missoula to be warm and the summers beautiful.