The motto at Feast World Kitchen is "Less fear, more falafel," yet Jordanian-born chef and Chef Program Director Maisa Abudayha wants people to know there's more than just falafel to the cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean (more accurately the Levant, which includes Jordan and neighboring regions).
Shushbarak, for example, is lamb dumplings in Greek yogurt. She makes sajieh with spicy strips of beef and peppers. And fattet dajej is a rich layering of crispy pita bread, rice, chicken, and creamy sesame tahini.
Abudayha has made all these entrees and more for Feast World, a Spokane-based nonprofit started by Ross Carper and former Inland Curry owner Daniel Todd, who had dual interests in food and fellowship.
Abudayha met Carper when he was running Compass Breakfast Wagon, and she shared her story with him. He opened his kitchen to her, and in June 2019, Abudayha served her first meal from the wagon parked at what would be the future home of Feast World Kitchen.
Her grandmother taught her to cook, says Abudayha, who arrived in Spokane in 2013 as an asylum-seeker with her husband and young children. Although she worked as a computer programmer in Jordan, she ended up at Spokane Public Schools' English Language Development department, which provides support for 15 language groups including Marshallese, Nepali, Russian, French, Spanish, Swahili and Arabic.
Contemplating investing in catering or a food truck, she also cooked traditional Jordanian and Palestinian food for friends and neighbors. Determined to pave her own way, Abudayha sought out others in the industry and found a willing ally in Carper.
Their conversations, as well as the support of neighboring First Presbyterian Church, which owns the building at West Third and Cedar Streets, helped launch Feast World Kitchen.
"They give us a good deal on rent and believe in our mission because of the calling to love our neighbors and welcome the 'stranger' or 'alien' in our midst," says Carper, who also works part time as the church's director of missional engagement and notes that Feast World is its own entity, with no faith affiliation.
Abudayha was one of scores of volunteers helping launch Feast World, which provides both wages and an opportunity to learn valuable on-the-job food industry skills to displaced persons who have been resettled in Spokane. She also helped other chefs, eventually hiring on as chef program director, and helping grow the roster of cooks from around six to 30.
She also kept cooking, expanding her menu and ability to fill more orders (Feast World advertises its rotating takeout-only menu in advance, closing orders once they sell out or in time to allow the chefs to shop and prepare the food).
In March 2020, for example, she teamed up with celebrated restaurateur Adam Hegsted for the fundraiser Local Meets Global, which also featured Selam Tadesse from Eritrea and chef Tony Brown, and Abou Kourouma from Senegal with chef Chad White.
"Food is really a good thing to communicate with other cultures," says Abudayah, who has taken the high road against the occasional pushback, like social media posts that tried to devolve the conversation away from food and into politics.
Feast World, she says, is focused on people. "It's humans and nothing more," she says. "The mission is not easy, but it's enjoyable."