Our chefs have moved to Missoula from all over the world—Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan 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 hasn't seen most of her family since then, though she was joyfully reunited with her youngest son, Sohil, in 2022. Following the approval of her asylum case, she now works hard on being reunited with her other 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.
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.
Shaza Abdalber & Mohammed Kulof
Shaza Abdalber and her husband Mohammed Kulof are originally from Homs, Syria and have lived with their son and daughter in Missoula since 2017.
Shaza and Mohammed love the traditions and foods of Homs, as in Syria, every city and region have specialty dishes. As a teenager, Shaza 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, Shaza 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.
Mohammed worked in Amman as a butcher, and has worked in construction as well. He loves spending time in the kitchen, too, and he takes special pride in getting the blend of ingredients just right. He and Shatha are a great team when it comes to culinary adventures.
Sewing is another one of Shaza’s passions, and she is often found in her spare time at home behind her sewing machine.
Though winters are a bit colder and snowier than Shaza and Mohammed prefer, they have found the people of Missoula to be warm and the summers beautiful.
Ghalia Ahmad Fayz Almasri
Ghalia was born with a passion for cooking. As a young child in Damascus, she often observed her mother preparing food in the kitchen and always asked questions about the process. When she was about 13, Ghalia began cooking with her mother and together they prepared delicious meals for the family. Today, she still loves cooking for her family and her friends in Missoula. Seeing the happiness others experience when eating her food is a great source of joy for her.
Ghalia, her husband Shadi, and their two sons arrived in Missoula in January of 2017, in the middle of a record setting winter - a photo of 2 bundled up boys hangs in their living room! The family welcomed a baby girl in 2019, and in 2023, a baby boy. Ghalia and her family enjoy the friendly atmosphere in Missoula. “At first when I was on the street people greeted me and asked about me and where I was from,” she says, “they were interested. People here are very nice.”
Zohair grew up in Lahore, Pakistan. When he wasn’t playing cricket, he could be found stirring the pots in his family’s kitchen. Both of his parents cooked and had unique cooking styles that influence his recipes today. Zohair believes that food has the power to bring people together and is a great way to introduce others to his culture. In Pakistan, many people show love and affection by sharing food. “No one leaves the table till they are beyond full,” Zohair says, “and even then someone might sneak more food onto your plate.” He hopes to share the culture of Pakistan with every person he cooks for, and you can taste the beautifully combined spices and layers of flavor in each bite.
Zohair moved to the U.S. in 2006 to attend the University of Montana with the support of his parents and three older brothers. Many years later, he still loves everything there is to love about Missoula. “The people in the community, everything to do outdoors, and inclusiveness are the biggest reasons why I have not left this amazing town.” His wife is also an avid foodie, and together they enjoy trying new recipes and inviting friends and family over to share meals. He dedicates his delicious cooking to his parents and his community.
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.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Rita moved to Missoula in 2019 with her younger sister and grandmother. She’s from Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and learned how to cook from her mom and dad. She’s been cooking for her family since she was 8 years old. Because of her skills in the kitchen, when she was in school she was chosen to help cook for over 100 people.
Cooking makes her happy, and she believes that food is one of the main things that makes people happy. “I feel happy when I am cooking, and I feel free,” she says. She cooks what she knows, and what she trusts, and produces delicious results. Rita likes Missoula because people here are friendly, and the town is quiet, not loud. It’s a good place to live.
Takea moved to Missoula May of 2017 with her husband and two kids, and in the spring of 2021 a sweet baby boy joined the family. She is from Teseney, Eritrea. Her mom taught her to cook when she was fourteen, and now she is teaching her own kids how to cook. Her older son loves her food, her daughter sometimes does. Takea loves to cook Eritrean food, and worked as a cook in a small cafeteria in Sudan before coming here. Her favorite thing to cook is injera. She likes Missoula, and really likes the people here.
Hayat Arbasha, her husband, Ahmad, and their three kids arrived in the US in September of 2020 from Jordan, and an adorable baby boy joined the family in the spring of 2021, and another sweet baby boy arrived in the spring of 2023. Originally from Damascus, Syria, Hayat was looking forward to moving to Montana, where she expected there would be snow up to her knees. So far, she’s been disappointed with the lack of snow, but she likes Missoula otherwise.
Hayat learned to cook from her mother when she was 15 years old, and she loves to cook. She likes to cook everything, but making Syrian food is her favorite.
Muna Alkayal moved to Missoula in October of 2020, from Cairo, Egypt. Originally from Damascus, Syria, she loves food, and has loved cooking for a long time. Muna’s mother taught her how to cook when she was 13 years old, and her love for cooking and talents in the kitchen led her to work as a chef in Egypt for seven and a half years. She can whip you up a chicken cordon bleu or spaghetti as easily as she can make tabbouleh or hummus. Muna loves to share her food with everyone, and hopes you enjoy it.
Muna and her family of two girls and four boys (two of whom are still in Egypt) like Missoula, and think the people here are lovely. They have also enjoyed the new climate in Montana, and have welcomed in the snowy winter by having a family snowball fight.
Nickel Lawrence is from Whitehouse, in Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica. He arrived in Missoula in November of 2020. He learned how to cook from his grandmother, as he spent a lot of time with her while his mother sold fried fish. He loves to cook for his friends and his wife, Courtney. He enjoys watching people eat the food he cooks, and gives them a bit of a stare until they tell him if the food is good. He loves to cook over an open fire in a bush kitchen in Jamaica. He appreciates the cleaner air and streets of Missoula, though Jamaica’s pure sunshine is easy to miss.
Oumar Keita is from Conakry, the capital of Guinea. He arrived in the USA in September of 2016. Oumar is a musician, and his mother was a dancer, in a ballet troupe in Guinea. She likes music and singing, and she taught him how to sing and dance, and told him stories. His mother told him that being with other people is better than being by yourself. If you’re with people, your problem will be small. If you don’t have people, your problem will be big.
In addition to his mother, Oumar grew up very close with his aunt, and she taught him how to cook when he was around ten years old. Oumar likes to cook because he likes to eat! He likes to show people that he can feed himself, and feed others too. In Guinean culture, if you share food with someone, it equalizes you.
Fatima Haidari is from Aleppo in northern Syria, and spent eight years in Jordan before arriving in Missoula on October 1, 2021. She learned how to cook from her grandmother when she was twelve years old, and later got additional culinary lessons from her husband’s mom. When asked why she likes to cook, she replied with a twinkle, “Because I like to eat!” Her favorite people to cook for are her children and husband, and for herself, and she loves a traditional Syrian dish of stuffed vegetables called Mahshi, literally translated to stuffed, which is how you feel after you eat it. She loves to share her culture through her food, and hopes that when people eat her food that they are happy and enjoy the flavors.
Fatima has been married for eighteen years and has five children, four boys and one girl. She loves playing sports, especially soccer and basketball and swimming. She says Missoulians are very nice, and she loves to visit with her new friends here.
Shadia AlFarkha is from Homs, Syria, and arrived in Missoula from Lebanon on October 1, 2021. Her mama taught her how to cook when she was 14 years old, and now she sees cooking as a hobby. She loves to cook and loves it when people love her food, though her favorite people to cook for are her family, especially her kids. Her six year old daughter, Nirmeen, rates her mom’s cooking ten out of ten. Shadia wants people to try Syrian food and understand more about the spices and ingredients, especially Homs food, of which she’s proud.
Shadia has been married for 17 years and has four children. Back in Homs, she used to cook food for all of her brothers and sisters and mother, and they loved to eat together every week. She loves to share her food, and is happy to share food with her new Missoula community. Every week in Homs when her family gathered, she learned more about cooking from her Grandmother and aunties.
Now that she’s in Missoula, she likes to learn English, and she’s also learning how to drive, which is easier to do here than in Lebanon because there are rules.
THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Yvette Nkurunziza arrived in the US in May 2020. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she spent 12 years in Uganda before arriving in the US. Yvette is multi-talented: in addition to being a wonderful cook, she can also speak 6 languages: French, Swahili, Lingala, Kinyamulenge, Kiganda, and English. She is married to Mr. Pathou and has two beautiful sons.
Yvette learned to cook when she was six years old, from her mother and from her neighbors, because Yvette was a friendly kid and liked to run next door and chat with the neighbors and she picked up cooking tips along the way. About her mother, Yvette said that she didn’t see differences between her girls and her boys and said, “All of you come in the kitchen and learn to cook.” Her mom passed away in 2006 and her dad passed away in 2008. In the beginning it wasn’t easy because she was in a foreign country without parents, and she and her siblings had to do everything for themselves.
When she was young, her mom told her, “Anything you cook is ok, you learn from your mistakes. You can’t learn without mistakes. Learning is a process, there’s no end point.” She has carried that wisdom with her into the kitchen and into life.
Cooking is Yvette’s passion. If she’s at home, it’s very rare to find her not doing anything. Sometimes you find her making chapatis or donuts.
Yvette is pictured above with her best friend, Esther Bushiri, who will be cooking with Yvette.
When she was just eight years old, Suhad’s mother taught her to cook and introduced her to a skill that would bring her a lifetime of happiness. They spent many happy hours cooking together in their home in Baghdad, Iraq. Suhad enjoys cooking anything and everything because she finds happiness in the process. Her favorite part is sharing her creations and seeing the joy that her cooking brings to others. In Iraq, families spend meal time connecting with each other over delicious food, and Suhad is excited to share her culture and this feeling of connection with others.
Suhad arrived in Missoula in April of 2019. Her family moved to Texas in the fall of 2020, but moved back to Missoula in the spring of 2022! She loves the people here in Missoula, and says of Missoulians, “They are kind and respectful, and they like refugees.”
Robi Sayedi is originally from Kabul, Afghanistan. She arrived in Missoula in 2021 with her husband and three children. Cooking is her hobby, and she enjoys sharing her food with family and friends. Robi likes to spend time with her children, and she’s now teaching her kids how to cook. She learned how to cook by herself, and especially loves to cook rice dishes. About Missoula, she says that Missoula has the best people, and that they are so friendly. Robi hopes that people will enjoy her cooking!
Sadaf Nezami is from Kabul, Afghanistan. She and her husband and toddler were the first Afghan family to arrive in Missoula in 2021. Since then, the family was joined by another sweet baby. Sadaf loves her husband and kids, and feels lucky that they are in her life.
Sadaf learned how to cook from her big sister. She loves to cook because she loves to make yummy food! She enjoys cooking rice dishes and eggplant, and is excited for Missoulians to try her food. Sadaf likes Missoula and considers it a very relaxed city. She dreams of going to school to study nursing.
Grace Mussiwa is from Uvira, DRC. She is married to Paul, and they have three girls, Gloria is 15, Safi is 13, Amen is 11. She learned how to cook from her mom, and because she’s the oldest in her family, she had to learn everything very young. In the DRC, if you are the oldest in your family, you have to learn to do everything. When your mom isn’t there, you are there for your siblings. Grace was 6 or 7 when she learned how to cook. Grace likes to share her food with people. She hopes it makes them happy when they try her food, and that they understand how important food is in Congolese culture.
Grace didn't like the wintertime in Montana when she first arrived, but it’s her life now and she has grown to accept the winters. Grace was an accountant in her country, but when she came here, she didn’t find a job in accounting, so she continued with her entry-level job. But now she’s studying Quickbooks and she wants to see if accounting is different than in her country, but she’s finding that the numbers are the same. She would like to get a job in accounting.
Malika Ashraf Khan is originally from Paktika, Afghanistan. She arrived in the U.S. in January 2022 with her husband and two children, Husna and Mohammad. Since then, her family has added a sweet baby boy, Abu Bakr.
Malika learned how to cook from her mother when she was 17 years old. She likes to cook for her family and friends, and she enjoys cooking for Americans and having us try Afghan food for the first time. She likes to cook, especially when she’s not busy and when she didn’t have kids, she really enjoyed cooking.
Malika really likes Missoula because she likes her friends here. She likes to come into the Soft Landing Missoula office with Abu Bakr around once a week to say hi to her friends.
Talaah Saleh arrived in the US in November of 2022. Originally from Aden, Yemen, Talaah is married with two children, and also is very close with her sister-in-law and two brothers-in-law, all of whom now live in Missoula. After she was married, she and her husband lived with her mother-in-law, who taught her almost everything she knows in the kitchen, especially how to make desserts!
Talaah and her family are very proud of being Yemeni. As Arabs, they love to invite people to their home, and Talaah is most happy when cooking for other people. She loves to hear nice things about her food. When Talaah sees people eat her food and they are happy, she forgets how tired she is. She explained that before the war, Yemenis were known for being generous, but the war changed people and made their hearts different.
Talaah is so happy to be in Missoula. In Madagascar, where her family fled to from Yemen, it was very difficult for her children to get an education, and she’s pleased that here in Missoula, they are studying and learning. She says that the people in Missoula are helpful and kind.
Bijoux Amissa is originally from Uvira, DRC. She arrived in the US in 2019, and has a large family with 8 children ranging in age from 3 years old to 19 years old!! Bijoux learned how to cook when she was in a refugee camp in Burundi. Classes were offered to residents with topics such as tailoring or cooking, and Bijoux enrolled in the culinary courses. She quickly learned the skills, and along the way, discovered that she really enjoyed cooking. From there, she kept teaching herself new skills, and this empowerment is one of the reasons she loves cooking so much - because she taught herself. Another reason that Bijoux loves cooking is because she thinks it’s fun!
Bijoux loves all the trees and nature here in Missoula. She hopes her new community enjoys her food!