From Sierra Leone to Salt Lake City, this refugee is cooking up the American dream.
Miatta Stevens' culinary journey is unlike most chefs.
Originally from Sierra Leone, Stevens spent nine years of her life in a refugee camp in Ghana. It was there that she spent many of her days cooking delicious dishes and satisfying the stomachs of those around her.
In fact, her food was so good that Stevens was placed in the part of camp with fellow cooks, where it would be easier for them to prepare food for all the people.
Stevens' love for cooking and spreading joy runs deep.
"My passion for food comes from a very long way. My mom loves cooking, so she shared that with me. And with the help we had at the refugee camp — all that!" she joyously told Upworthy. "From there, I noticed that my passion for food is real because I was just willing to cook for people and love making them happy and love the feedback I get from it. It made a lot of difference to us in the refugee camp."
Now, Stevens is using her cooking chops to fuel her American dream.
When she relocated to Salt Lake City, she heard about Spice Kitchen Incubator.
Founded three years ago, it's a program of the International Rescue Committee, in partnership with Salt Lake County, that provides opportunities for refugees, immigrants, and people with low-to-moderate income to start their own food business. It helps them support themselves and their families and use their existing culinary skills to start new lives.
Grace Henley, program director at Spice Kitchen Incubator, told Upworthy: "We know that so many refugees have strong, beautiful, diverse culinary backgrounds and that food is one of the ways that they’re able to offer their own skills in the communities where they're resettled."
Spice Kitchen is a truly incredible program that operates in three phases:
This is where they help develop their client's food idea and put a business plan in place. Here, they make sure to address every detail before launching — overall goals, branding and marketing, menu development, recipe costing, financial literacy, focus groups, permits and licensing, you name it!
It's a comprehensive plan that typically lasts four to six months and is designed to give each client the proper foundation needed to take their food dreams to the next level.
This is it! The client is finally cooking up food for a living and able to start growing their business — of course, with a little help from their friends at Spice.
They provide access to a full commercial kitchen space, one that clients may rent at below market rate. They give hands-on technical assistance at any time and even help grow their clients' customer base in order to reach their ultimate goal.
There's one catch though. Clients can only stay in incubation for up to five years. From that point, they should have all the skills needed to be an independent business owner.
They grow up so fast, don't they? This is when the clients have finally made it and are now ready to contribute to the U.S. economy doing what they love. But it's not like they're completely on their own.
They can still receive technical assistance when needed and are now part of the alumni network. This gives them the opportunity to give back and provide mentorship to incoming entrepreneurs.
Programs such as this have done so much to help refugees like Stevens achieve their goals.
"They have made [my passion] even more stronger and appreciate what I have to offer and give us the opportunity to share with people," says Stevens. "They try as much as possible to give me their help and resources to put my food out there."
When there's a system in place to help refugees succeed, they're able to share their incredible talents and wonderful culture with the rest of the country.
We can't wait to see what they cook up next.