The last six months have decimated the restaurant industry. As Seattleites, we want to share the stories of chefs in the area who have made sacrifices to support the community while simultaneously changing their businesses to survive. These chefs work day and night in pursuit of their passion, and we celebrate them.
Chef Tarik Abdullah has a fascinating culinary background. After a period of cooking in Los Angeles and traveling through Western Europe, Tarik returned to Seattle and began building his personal brand. His programs have included, "A DJ And A Cook" - music focused pop-ups, "In The Kitchen With Chaf T" - a culinary program targeted for 11-14 year olds, and his "Feed The People" and "Community Kitchen" work - focused on providing meals to the underserved populations of the Seattle area.
When and where did you learn to cook, and at what point did you realize that food was something you wanted to pursue full time?
Started cooking professionally at 18 in 1999. I was 23 at the time and decided to move to LA to seek more knowledge. It was a booming restaurant scene and was still close to home.
I did 10 years in LA and started teaching kids cooking as well. I came back to Seattle with a potential job offer that ended up fizzling. I took a year off and travelled through Western Europe - super refreshed and relaxed I came back with a different mindset. Back in Seattle I worked at Serafina and Cicchetti for about five years. That was the launchpad for my entrepreneurism through food. During my days off I was doing pop-ups and that’s how I started building the brand. I did some media stuff, and expanded my brand from there. My mission statement is to use food as a tool to bridge communities to engage, create and educate, to give our kids opportunities through food. COVID came about and I had to shift what I was doing. So I’m just focusing on literally providing meals for the people.
Can you briefly talk about Feed The People, your various pop-ups, and your overarching goal as a chef and host?
This past Christmas I started providing food for folks on Christmas. When the Pandemic came about I had an idea of what I wanted to do. Melissa (Miranda) had already opened her restaurant (Musang) so she ended up shifting things and started a Community Kitchen aspect of her brand - providing free meals for restaurant workers. A couple weeks after that I found a location and we opened up with a few others to form the Community Kitchens Collective in effort to open up doors and find more funding a support.
Between us we had over 50 years of cooking experience and community involvement. It only made sense for us to form this group.
The strong Seattle food community is something that has come up in a number of conversations with chefs in the area. You’ve done pop-ups with and supported a number of other chefs in the city. What do you think makes the Seattle food scene so tightly knit and generally affable?
Seattle is a small city, and size makes it easier to build relationships with the food community. That matters to a lot of people. People want a true connection beyond what is on the plate. Now is a perfect time for restaurants and guests to really think about that. We lost a lot of restaurants, but now people are becoming far more selective of where they want to go. It’s not just convenience anymore.
Do big corporations have the funds to survive this? Of course. They are not the whole engine, they are just a part. Small businesses are still the core of the industry. If you have to go out of your way to support small businesses - do it. If COVID should convince you that small businesses really could can your money.
We (small businesses) build continual support by building relationships with our guests when they come through the door.
Coming out of the pandemic, the restaurant business is forever changed. How will restaurants adjust? Do you have any long term plans for the community kitchen or feed the people plaza?
We have to teach ourselves where the resources are. We need to take notes on how bigger businesses are doing things, and water those ideas down to work for us. You constantly have to think about your business. All the time. If you are an 80 seat restaurant and can only have 25% capacity it’s going to be hard. What are other restaurants doing across the country? How can you generate income until things improve.
We’ll be offering our pop-up with delivery and pickup in different places around the city. We want to be able to expand the number of meals we can serve. We can get younger homeless folk our food. But what about the elders? We think we can have younger folks come to our hubspace and get meals for both them and the older population who can’t get to us. Also merch!