Vickery Meadow chefs debut ethnic cuisine

It’s fitting that Felicitas Vazquez debuted her Mexican food catering business at a celebration honoring the dead.

It was her late mother, after all, who taught her to cook.

“My mother’s food is more delicious,” Vazquez said Sunday in Spanish, speaking through a translator. “But I hope to live up to her legacy.”

Vazquez is one of five chefs living in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood in northeast Dallas who have recently become certified to handle food with help from the Trans.lation community chef program. The chefs — from Mexico, Iraq, the Dominican Republic and Egypt — were approved by the city of Dallas in October.

Three of the chefs displayed their fare Sunday at an event for Día de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — a Mexican holiday commemorating the dead. The event, sponsored by Trans.lation, was at the organization’s center, in a strip shopping center on Park Lane just east of Central Expressway.

The organization, which aims to showcase the art and culture of the international community, hopes to provide the chefs a means for an income and to display the area’s culinary diversity.

More than 20 languages are spoken in Vickery Meadow, a relatively small but densely populated area with 30,000 residents. The neighborhood was in the national spotlight last year when a visitor from Liberia, Thomas Eric Duncan, died after becoming the first person in the U.S. diagnosed with Ebola.

Día de los Muertos centers on gathering with friends and relatives to pray for those who have died and honor their memories. The chefs’ food on Sunday filled a table next to an altar with white candles, orange marigolds and favorite foods of the departed — apples, bananas and leftover Halloween candy.

Vasquez, 35, served tamales with a slight kick and Atole — a hot chocolate-like drink thickened slightly with corn.

Providing food Sunday with a small stipend from Trans.lation offered Vasquez a trial run. She hopes to someday run a catering company or maybe even a restaurant.

Vasquez, who moved to Vickery Meadow from Mexico six years ago, said any income would benefit her family, which includes three daughters, ages 3, 8 and 10. She said the money would help buy personal items.

For chef Eman Alzaydi, who moved here from Iraq a little more than 18 months ago, selling her food would fund the basics.

“I would help my husband pay the rent and buy clothes for my babies,” said Alzaydi, 29, as her children, ages 3 and 6, played nearby.

Among Alzaydi’s Iraqi salads and kabobs were sticky, sweet fried breads. One was a little larger than a doughnut hole and tasted of honey and citrus.

About half the people living in Vickery Meadow were born outside the U.S., according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The median income in 2013 was not even half of Dallas County’s median income of $49,000.

“We identified a need for income in the Vickery Meadow community and decided to pair economic development with the amazing cultural talent of our culturally diverse chefs,” said Carol Zou, project manager for Trans.lation. “We envision a narrative of Vickery Meadow as a vibrant, multilingual neighborhood of cultural and economic producers who take an active part in the strengthening of their own community.”

Trans.lation worked with Susu Cultural Business Incubator to certify the five Vickery Meadow chefs. Trans.lation provided online classes and licensing exams, and Susu, owned by Tisha Crear, provides ongoing advice about a creating a business.

Trans.lation and Susu hope to have a formal event for the chefs to display their cuisine.

Crear, who focuses on helping Oak Cliff residents start businesses, said she hopes to bring the Vickery Meadow chefs to Oak Cliff events to expand their reach. Trans.lation and Susu are also working with local markets so the chefs can sell their delicacies on a more regular basis. They will also sell food at pop-up events.

Alzaydi is still working with Crear to decide what to call her company. She wants something that conveys joy and happiness that also lets people know her cuisine is Iraqi. Her business would mean just cooking more of what she loves making for her husband and kids.

Her menu is a compilation of what food she likes best, what represents where she came from.

How did she decide what to cook? “I like this food in Iraq.”