Food bridges cultures, as Armidale residents found last week when they had their first taste of Ezidi cooking.
Cafe Patisserie, 80 Rusden St, opened its kitchen to 11 Iraqi refugee women, and its doors to nearly 70 locals on Tuesday night.
Foodies enjoyed biryani, dolmades, kubba (rice and meat patties), stuffed red peppers, maklouba (vegetarian casserole), T-bone steaks in chickpea soup, and bread, with baklava, coconut pastries, and cardamom sweets for afters.
"People wanted to show support and welcome the newest culture in the multicultural soup of Armidale," Nathan Walker, who runs the cafe with Enora Chanteperdrix, said.
The idea for the dinner came last year when an Ezidi family living near the cafe shared bread as a neighbourly gesture; in return, the Cafe Patisserie owners shared their croissants.
"It was like a non-verbal exchange through food," Ms Chanteperdrix said. "That's what food is about in all languages: uniting people. The food they brought after that was so delicious I thought we should share the experience."
The cafe owners wanted to hold a refugee dinner to break down cultural barriers.
"We thought it would be a welcoming thing to do," Mr Walker said. "I try to have conversations, and they don't speak very good English. As food people, we speak the same language."
Armidale local Sue Vile connected the cafe owners to Settlement Services International.
SSI co-ordinator Samantha Airs saw the dinner as an ideal opportunity to promote cultural exchange. Armidale locals, she said, were keen to learn more about the Ezidis - and food was a great way to generate conversation and learn from each other. The dinner would also foster leadership among the Ezidis.
Ms Airs found 11 women with either a passion for cooking, or who had owned eateries in Iraq.
Haseeba Halo, Zyhoor, Samya, Asia, and Guli Omar said cooking was a cultural way to show respect; to show Armidale their culture; and to get more involved with the community.
The Armidale foodies raved about the Ezidi cuisine - an interesting mix between different Middle Eastern cultures, with a dash of Indian spice, Mr Walker said.
The Ezidi women said locals' appreciation of their food made them proud, happy, and feel more love for the community.
All proceeds went to the Ezidi community. The cafe owners donated the premises and electricity, and sold tickets, while Ms Chanteperdrix helped the women in the kitchen; set up the buffet; and refilled dishes.
Ms Airs praised Mr Walker and Ms Chanteperdrix for opening up their cafe for the night, and handing it over to the Ezidi community.
The Ezidi women thanked the cafe owners, the Armidale community, and SSI. They would love nothing more than to cook again, they said; already there's talk of setting up a cafe or catering business.
The cafe would like to hold similar events with different cultures, such as an African-themed night.