Emma's Torch

By Jordana Bornstein

 Image via Emma’s Torch

Image via Emma’s Torch

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”

There are more displaced people living in the world today than there have ever been before in history. According to the World Economic Forum, one in every one hundred thirteen people is displaced.

While the number of refugees living in New York City is unclear, what is clear is the growing hostility that these people are faced with when they arrive in the United States. In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that suspended the acceptance of refugees into the country. Additionally, Trump’s anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric has become both predictable and heavily circulated in the media. Most recently, the media has been overwhelmed with negative images and xenophobic language brought forth by Trump’s ad vilifying the caravan of migrants travelling from Central America. Yet, everyday refugees still arrive in New York hopeful that they will be able to create a home for themselves here.

Resettlement programs for refugees are not a rarity in urban areas like New York. In Chicago, RefugeeOne helps to resettle refugees in the Chicago area by providing them with housing, job opportunities, and access to mentorship programs. CAMBA is a resettlement program in New York that helps immigrants, refugees, and disenfranchised New Yorkers find housing and job opportunities.

A new organization founded in 2017 is Emma’s Torch, a restaurant providing life-changing opportunities for refugees arriving in New York City. As stated on their website, Emma’s Torch’s mission is to “harness the power of the culinary industry to help refugees build new lives in their new communities.”

So, what distinguishes Emma’s Torch from other resettlement programs and non-profits?

Emma’s Torch is both a fully functioning restaurant in Brooklyn and a job readiness preparation program for refugees. Individuals who identify as refugees can apply to Emma’s Torch’s eight-week, paid apprenticeship program. During the program, students learn skills applicable to working in culinary fields as well as English language classes and other job readiness skills. Emma’s Torch understands that by providing its participants with specific, goal-oriented skill sets, they prepare them for success.

Once accepted into the program, students go through 400 hours of culinary training that prepares them with critical skills necessary for working in the fast-paced New York culinary industry. There is a need for more line cooks in many restaurants in New York, yet there is a void of people with the skill sets for these jobs. Emma’s Torch helps to close this gap by offering their free program to refugees, survivors of sex trafficking, and asylum seekers as long as they are eligible to work in the United States.

Emma’s Torch graduates are connected through the restaurant’s Culinary Council, a large network of restaurants and executives in the New York culinary world, which helps them obtain jobs and make meaningful connections. The Culinary Council is made up of chefs and restaurants such as Ned Baldwin of Houseman in Greenwich Village, Ryan Hardy of Charlie Bird and Ada’s Place, as well as larger conglomerates such as NoHo Hospitality Group. By providing students with access to well connected and established culinary mavens in the city, Emma’s Torch is proudly able to say they have a one hundred percent placement rate for graduates looking for full-time culinary jobs.

Last summer, the first class graduated from Emma’s Torch, and are currently working at swanky New York City restaurants such as The Dutch, Little Park and Dizengoff.  These opportunities have not only given Emma’s Torch students the ability to financially support themselves, but have provided them with the ability to actually build homes for themselves and bring their families to New York City.

Emma’s Torch started last year as a pop-up cafe serving brunch on the weekends in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Its apprentices worked as paid employees, and hundreds of New Yorkers showed up each weekend to indulge in dishes such as avocado toast and buttermilk pancakes. Then, six months later, Emma’s Torch moved to their current Classroom Cafe location in Carroll Gardens. The 1,500 square foot facility is open Tuesday to Sunday and currently is serving a seasonal dinner and brunch menu. Some of their most enticing items include a Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, Autumn Squash Cavatelli, and Pistachio Bread Pudding.

 Photo by Cole Wilson for The New Yorker

Photo by Cole Wilson for The New Yorker

Its founder Kerry Brodie, who also currently serves as the Executive Director, started Emma’s Torch in 2017 after working on the media and communications side of sociopolitical agencies. By combining her passion for cooking and her conviction to help refugees in crisis, Emma’s Torch went from an aspiration to a full-fledged agency that is considered one of the “World’s 100 Greatest Places” according to Time.

Emma’s Torch is named after nineteenth century American poet Emma Lazarus, who was an ardent advocate for refugees and whose poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty has historically greeted people as they arrive to America.

The inclusivity, acceptance, and passion behind Emma’s Torch’s mission is very much embodied in its physical space. Nestled in a sunny neighborhood in Brooklyn, each aspect of the restaurant is curated to create an overpowering sense of belonging and community. Like many New York City establishments, the space is small, which allows for inter-table conversations. The window that opens up to the kitchen creates a feeling that is reminiscent of home, where kitchens and food preparation are often at the epicenter and become a community affair.

The restaurant, though only open for Brunch and dinner, serves New American Cuisine. Food and culture are incredibly intertwined, and often it is recipes and customary food preparations that refugees hold on to most from their native culture. The food at Emma’s Torch honors the sanctity of one’s cultural food by blending together diverse cultures into a menu that reflects true American ideals.

Though the media perpetuates a bleak and hopeless future for refugees, taking a closer look into community based organizations such as Emma’s Torch actually reveals the opposite. People like founder Kerrie Brodie are becoming exponentially more inspired to create change and combat the hostility that refugees face. Emma’s Torch is a honorable example of a community-based organization that strives to uphold the American ideal of welcoming refugees and displaced people from all over the world.

Kaylee WarrenComment