Amer, the daughter of two Syrian immigrants, explains the motivation behind her unusual five-course meal
The idea of fusing cultures through food is something that executive chef Rahaf Amer has known throughout her life, and it’s what she lovingly brought to the table during the Food From Inside the Travel Ban event in Nashville, which took place on May 20.
This is the second year that local nonprofit Tennessee Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON) has hosted the travel ban event in support of the seven Muslim-majority countries listed under President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban. Amer, the daughter of two Syrian immigrants and executive chef of Nashville restaurant Salt & Vine, was asked by JFON to curate the five-course meal served at the event. “I’ve always grown up eating Syrian food, but it was never my passion to cook it,” Amer says. “I always wanted to try other types of cuisines … It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville, away from home, that I wasn’t getting those home-cooked meals, and I started to miss it. So, I started making my own versions of those dishes but with all the other fusions that I’ve learned or taught myself.”
Amer focused on infusing her unique cooking sensibilities into the dishes she prepared for the event, all of which were Syrian meals that Amer grew up eating — with an American twist.
“The menu that I’ve made is something that has never really been done because I’m incorporating pork into Middle Eastern cuisine, which is kind of forbidden. I’m 100 percent Syrian, but I was born and raised in America. So, I think that if anyone can do it without offending people, it would be somebody like me,” she says.
Amer donated some dishes to the event in 2017, but was asked by JFON Executive Director Wade Munday to exclusively curate the meal this year. “He wanted me to do something more honed in on my culture and where I come from, which was a blessing,” Amer says. “It’s the first time that I’m able to highlight my culture and where I grew up, together. This dinner was really an expression of who I am as a person.
“This is my way of trying to do something about (the travel ban),” Amer says. “My parents have lived here for over 30 years and would consider themselves American. I don’t think people are aware of the kind of people they would be banning from this country … The reputation that the travel ban has given to people like my parents is so misguided. I want people to see that isn’t the case.”
Amer believes that the Food From Inside the Travel Ban event is as important as ever to hold in Nashville. In late April, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in defense of the newly revised travel ban, and many news outlets reported that the court will likely side with the Trump administration on the issue. “With Tennessee being a southern-Republican state, I think, now more than ever, it’s really important to put all that out there to show how messed up and misguided all the information people are receiving is."