Serving up hope, one dish at a time

For most of us, food is a thing of heritage, connecting us to the kitchens of our childhood, our grandparents. Even for those of us with a survival-only relationship to food, we all have that one dish or holiday treat, that reminds us from where we came and where we’ve been.

Food is about connections- to people and places, past and present. We have always used food to establish our identity. What we eat is deeply ingrained in who we are.

Yet, you and I probably don’t think of food as a way to affirm our very existence.

However, for Ellia Khair, a young chef from Beit Sahour, Palestine, cooking is just that- a way to preserve cultural identity.

Palestinians like Ellia are increasingly separated from loved ones by the separation wall that snakes around growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Shared cuisine is one way to re-establish connections to family, to heritage.

For Ellia, it’s also a source of deep passion. Ellia has loved sweets since he was a child. He will debate anyone about the best sweet shops in Bethlehem. When he decided to pursue culinary arts professionally, there was no doubt about where he would study.

“Everyone knows Dar al-Kalima University. It has a great reputation,” Ellia shared.

While at Dar al-Kalima, Ellia discovered the long history of Palestinian cuisine. He was also introduced to a wide range of international cuisines. Chef Ellia graduated with a diploma in Culinary Arts from Dar al-Kalima in 2015, and continued his training at the Royal Academy in Jordan, Bethlehem University, and the Dubai Chocolate Academy.

When you give to Bright Stars, you open up a world of opportunity for creative leaders like Ellia. 

He particularly enjoys combining Palestinian and Arab flavors with European techniques and dishes. This fusion approach won him an invitation to represent Palestine and at the International Couscous Festival in Sicily, Italy.

Today, Chef Ellia is the Executive Chef at the newly-opened Paradise Premium Hotel in Bethlehem. In the Paradise kitchen, he hones his signature cuisine, which he calls “Arabic-Italian.” Guests of the hotel enjoy freekeh salads loaded with seafood and Italian cheeses, chocolates laced with cardamom, and kanafe pastries drenched in caramel.

Serving perhaps his most famous client yet, Chef Ellia concocted a Palestinian-Italian fusion dish, “maqlouba rissoto” for Pope Francis during his visit to Jerusalem!

“Dar al-Kalima put me on the path to culinary arts and allowed me to develop these important culinary skills, which I use every day,” the chef shared.

Chef Ellia is just one example of the impact of Dar al-Kalima.  

Will you make a gift today? By partnering with us, you will empower graduates like Ellia to retain their heritage- and share it with the world. Their food, their stories will not be lost.

In this season of Lent, we position our hearts to listen to God. We remember that God speaks through others, particularly the marginalized and oppressed. We are grateful for each of you who take time to listen to the stories of our Palestinian brothers and sisters. We hope that you hear God’s voice in these stories, that you see his redemption at work. We invite you to be his hands and feet.


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