Chef Seng Luangrath knows what it’s like to be a refugee, having fled Laos in 1981 for a camp in Thailand. So when the dire news footage began flooding in from Afghanistan, “it’s like going back to old memories,” says Luangrath, who runs Laotian restaurants Thip Khao and Padaek. Luangrath has long supported Southeast Asian refugees; now, she’s turning her attention those coming from the Middle East.
Luangrath is one of nine high-profile area chefs participating in a fundraising dinner to help Afghan refugees. It’ll take place at Moon Rabbit, the modern Vietnamese restaurant at the Wharf, on Monday, September 13. Many of the dinner’s participants are refugees themselves, or come from families who left their homelands, whether by choice or not. Chefs taking part include Jocelyn Law-Yone (Thamee); Paolo Dungca (Pogiboy) Yuan Tang (Rooster & Owl); Marcelle Afram (Shababi); Rahul Vinod (Rasa); Tim Ma (Lucky Danger); and Erik Bruner-Yang (Maketto). Moon Rabbit chef Kevin Tien helped organize the group through the nonprofit he helped launch, Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate, which has since gone national.
The meal includes ten courses—one from each chef—plus wine pairings. Tickets are $195 each, and all proceeds go to Homes Not Borders, which provides household needs, employment assistance, and other services to refugees and asylum seekers in the DC-area. Though it’s short notice, Tien says he hopes to sell around 85 tickets, which would raise over $16,000 for the nonprofit.
Even though the restaurant industry itself is in the midst of turmoil, chefs like Jocelyn Law-Yone say they don’t think twice when asked to help others in a crisis. Already, the Popal family, themselves Afghan refugees, have been collecting a flood of donations at their DC restaurants Lapis and the Berliner. Meanwhile José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen has been on the ground at Dulles, feeding refugees as they arrive.
“We’re all in the belly of the whale,” says Law-Yone, an immigrant from Burma*. “I’m personally from a failed nation and the reason I haven’t been able to do anything [in Burma] is that you really don’t know where the funds go in a situation where everything has failed. With the Afghan refugees, we know they’ll be here and the funds will get to them. There are so many things going on, but this is an industry that’s been really cut at the knees and we’re just all trying to help each other.”
Tickets are available via Tock. The dinner starts at 6:30 PM.
Correction: Law-Yon is an immigrant from Burma, not a refugee.