The Syrian conflict is one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. With so many people in danger, it's more important than ever right now to lend a hand, and in March top chefs around Australia will do just that.
The #CookForSyria Australia campaign follows on from the success of the UK version, which raised more than $350,000 and produced a best-selling book.
The Australian campaign is a month-long initiative that sees cooks from all over the country doing what they do best to raise money for children displaced by the conflict.
"My heart just breaks for the Syrian people," says Kylie Kwong. "I remember an amazing thing that Carlo Petrini from Slow Food said last year. 'We must cook with compassion, but also take that a step further and practise practical compassion.' In other words, turn compassion into action. This is that action."
To launch the campaign, Kwong and a dozen other leading chefs have banded together to cook a Syrian-inspired dinner at Three Blue Ducks in Sydney's Rosebery on 27 February.
Peter Gilmore, of Bennelong and Quay, and Acme chef Mitch Orr will be on snacks duty, with Clayton Wells (Automata) and Kwong taking care of entrées such as raw grapes with labne and za'atar and Billy Kwong's signature wallaby buns (albeit with a Syrian twist).
Next up at the long-table banquet will be slow-cooked lamb from Luke Powell (LP's Quality Meats) and Paul Carmichael (Momofuku Seiobo), alongside flatbreads from Mat Lindsay (Ester), David Thompson's pomegranate, prawn and chicken salad, and other vegetarian sides from The Three Blue Ducks chefs Mark LaBrooy, Darren Robertson and Andy Allen, and Syrian sister chefs Carol and Sharon Salloum, from Almond Bar.
Ross Lusted, of The Bridge Room, will be on dessert duty and says he can't wait to experiment with the flavours of the region. "I'm thinking orange, pistachio, rose and sesame," he says. "In that part of the world - Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran - all the flavours are so beautiful."
But the buck doesn't stop with the charity dinner. Throughout March, other chefs around the country will add special #CookForSyria dishes to their menus - baharat quail with toasted spelt and tamarind at Firedoor, say, and pickled octopus with Aleppo pepper at Restaurant Hubert. Three dollars from each of these #CookForSyria dishes goes straight to UNICEF Australia's Syria Crisis Appeal for children on behalf of diners.
And it's not just the big-name chefs who are helping with the fundraising; the campaign calls for people across Australia to host their own #CookForSyria events, too. "It's very important and sets a very good example," says Kwong. "Hopefully all of this will inspire a whole lot of other #CookForSyria activity across Australia and the world."
#CookForSyria at Three Blue Ducks, Monday 27 February, 1/85 Dunning Ave, Rosebery, NSW; tickets $320 per person (plus booking fee), which includes canapés, cocktails on arrival, a shared Syrian-inspired feast and wine. For bookings call Three Blue Ducks (02) 9389 0010, and to donate to the campaign visit unicef.org.au