Better Together: Free To Feed
As a female-led workplace, this International Women's Day, we're celebrating the stories of women who are shaping the future of Melbourne Hospitality. Although International Women's Day only comes around once a year, we believe it's important to celebrate diversity and empowerment beyond one day or month.
That's why, this month we're hosting a dinner with our friends at Free to Feed and 10 incredible Melbourne-based women plus our own team. Keep an eye on @capisparkling over the next few weeks as we share their stories.
And who better to kick off our profiles than co-founder and CEO of Free to Feed herself - Loretta Bolotin!
Would you mind giving a short introduction of yourself for the folks across Australia?
Hi folks! My names Loretta and I’m the co founder and CEO of Free to Feed! After years of on the ground work with people seeking asylum across the globe, I founded Free to Feed in 2015 with a mission to empower refugees and people seeking asylum, and new migrants with opportunities to gain economic independence, break down social barriers and have their powerful stories heard.
I’m a mother of two babes and I live for shared meals with loved ones and a dip in the ocean!
What does it mean to be Australian to you?
I grew up in a culturally diverse suburb in Melbourne’s deep north which has influenced how I understand what it means to be Australian. My classmates were all migrants, or the children of migrants. I probably didn’t know it at the time, but I think this early exposure to multiculturalism—in its beautiful and complex forms—was hugely influential on me, and I’ve later come to realise that early experiences of this vibrancy is not necessarily commonplace. It was actually a total privilege.
My parents migrated from southern Italy as a result of economic hardship and, together, my parents ran a small food business, a little neighbourhood deli. Australia gave my family an opportunity to start from scratch and build community and a business and to recreate really special rituals here (like coming together for a meal). This confluence of culture, new and old, is what being Australian means to me.
Tell us about Free To Feed? What was the inspiration to start such an amazing project?
I’ve been working in the refugee sector for over a decade now, with leading humanitarian organisations both in Australia and abroad. Through this work, I’ve had the privilege of meeting hundreds of refugees and people seeking asylum as they take perilous and hopeful journeys across the globe, in search of a safe home. Whether it be in slums on the outskirts of Nairobi, the energetic and smoggy streets of Cairo, or the prison-like detention centres on Christmas Island, I’ve grappled with the challenging and pressing questions that we, as the human race, face: how to best support people—who have fled discrimination, persecution and war—to find safety, hope, freedom and a brighter future for themselves (and their families).
All of these experiences culminated in launching Free to Feed here in Melbourne. Free to Feed is a social enterprise that empowers refugees, people seeking asylum and new migrants, and encourages inclusive communities through the delivery of shared food experiences.
Tell us about your food and chefs. What makes you guys a bit different?
At Free to Feed we run incredible food experiences and events. In our immersive, hands-on cooking classes, members of the community can connect with rich cultural traditions and learn recipes that tell tales of generations of home cooks. Our classes are an intimate and vibrant experience—a journey of discovery, sharing, and bountiful, delicious feasting.
While our kitchen and events team create intimate dining experiences with enlightened hospitality at their core. They’re celebrations of seasonal food in like minded company and of course, enjoyed with a bunch of fresh aromatic florals and great wine! We’re most famous for our grazing tables that are bursting with colour and flavour and channeling all our favourite mezze dishes in one elaborate spread.
We currently have 18 participants in our program (10 of whom are training to be chefs under our wings and 8 of whom are leaders and teachers in our classes). Their countries of origin include: Syria, Uganda, Iran, Sri Lanka and Lebanon, to name a few! They are guided by our professional, experienced and big hearted programs and hospitality team.
What is your goal in what you do or what is the message you hope to get out?
Hmmmmm… I don’t want to be too prescriptive. I want the community to approach our work with curiosity and see how it makes them feel or what it provokes. I encourage the community to engage with what we’re doing at Free to Feed, come along to a cooking experience or a long table dinner or let’s work together on your next event. You’ll get exposure to the work we are doing firsthand and you’ll no doubt walk away with a full belly and heart!
Who are some local heroes or brands that inspire you?
Queen Julia Busuttil Nishimura aka Julia Ostro, for her creative and unwavering support since the early days of Free to Feed. Julia came on board to support recipe development with our first participant way back in 2016 and she’s been championing our work both practically and from the sidelines ever since. She’s also a mother and a wonderful cook and author that epitomises homely, authentic food.
I also really respect the work being done by Lee Tran Lam with her Diversity In Food Media Australia project. In terms of local businesses, Hagen’s Organics are a wholesome family run business that speak to our values and deliver great organic meat products that we use in our own food production at Free to Feed.
And of course, I am most inspired by the grassroots, heart centred organisations, filled with local heroes who are supporting people seeking asylum! My favourite initiative is Refugee Voices for their integrity and powerful work.
What are some of your favourite bars and restaurants in Melbourne?
I love Mankoushe in E Brunswick ! Those guys are so full of passionate and heart, if I’m going to go out to eat I want it to feel genuine, authentic and homely. I feel the same way about Umbertos in Thornbury, it’s such an institution and it’s run by a family team too.
If I want to step it up a little bit and have a few wines I’ll go to Neighbourhood Wine, again that space feels rich in history and is a great winter date night location! I must confess though, my most favourite kind of meal is usually enjoyed under the trees in a local park, so I have a lot of Mezze boxes from Free to Feed for special gatherings! If you had to pick your favourite meal in Melbourne, what would it be?
This sounds like a Free to Feed promotion but seriously, Chef Nikki Owen’s focaccia (you can taste the love) with some Mount Zero olives and Riyamma’s hummus is actually where it’s at for me. Simple and stunning!
What’s your go to CAPI Cocktail?
I’m going to need to hand over to Gabs our Front of House Manager for this one, as I’ve been out of the loop for a while with covid and kids!
Gabs: My go to CAPI cocktail would be a classic dark and stormy. A nice molasses dark rum like Goslings Black seal, some lime juice and CAPI ginger beer and a few dashes of Angostura bitters to finish.``