Initiative That Changed Militants To Cooks Is Providing Free Meals In Beirut

Wissam Andraos/The Great Oven | ScoopEmpire

The “Great Oven” project, an innovative community cooking project in Lebanon, has fed thousands of people and rehabilitated former militants in the country. Today, the oven is supporting the ongoing relief efforts in Beirut.

“Beirut has given me so much, I feel it’s personal to me. It felt good to be able to offer them something,” Rawda Mazloum, who had been using the decorated oven to cook food for refugees in the Beqaa Valley, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Following the August 4 explosion, the 43-year-old moved the giant oven into the relief center in the Lebanese capital, where she has resumed her endeavor, helping feed the vulnerable and homeless.

The project was created by Spanish-Irish chef and food writer James Gomez Thompson, BBC Broadcaster Nigel Slater OBE, and Lebanese news producer Nour Matraji nearly 2 years ago.

The project began in Tripoli “as a rehabilitative cooking, music, and art program for former child fighters,” ScoopEmpire reported. 

It developed further since then, encouraging former militants to cook together and learn new skills, giving them a sense of belonging and purpose.

The 2-tonne oven that is currently in Beirut came under Mazloum’s stewardship after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic reached Lebanon earlier this year.

The oven is parked today by the blast-damaged Ballroom Blitz nightclub where a makeshift prep kitchen has been set up by Thompson and Matraji.

Meals are prepared where the club’s dance floor was, using ingredients from the project’s food donor partners, and with the help of volunteers, including a former militant who now works as a full-time chef and artist for the initiative.

With the now full support and partnership of the Lebanese Food Bank, that one-oven is actually providing over 1,000 hot meals per day.

And kids are also volunteering to help out!

So far, The Great Oven has self-funded its operations and is currently expanding with the making of four additional ovens.

Meanwhile, there’s a fundraiser to install 10 others in the areas most affected by the blast by the end of the current year.