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From Kabul to Richmond: A Chef’s Dream Comes True with Richmond Restaurant Opening

Chef Noori cooks lamb chops.
Chef Noori sautés marinated lamb chops, an item on the menu at The Mantu. Crixell Mathews/WCVE

Update: The Mantu opens May 24, 2019 at 10 S. Thompson St Richmond VA, 23221.


What’s it like for a refugee to rebuild their career in Virginia? One man -- who was an executive chef in Afghanistan -- took jobs in small kitchens cooking for buffets. But he never lost hope. Four years later, he is opening a restaurant in Richmond’s Carytown serving dishes from his homeland. WCVE’s Angela Massino has more for Virginia Currents.

Transcript

People are gathered at a long community table in the middle of the restaurant The Mantu. They're celebrating a dream come true for Chef Hamidullah Noori and the partnerships that made it happen.

Noori: You know, for me, this restaurant means a lot. For me, for my community, for my family.

Chef Noori is from Afghanistan. There he trained with some of the best chefs in the fine dining world and was handpicked to work for USAID, cooking meals for diplomats and American contractors. But living in Kabul is risky.

Noori: Everyday there was an explosion. There was a suicide attack in the town

Because of his work with the U.S. government. He could apply for a special visa to move to the United States.


Chef Noori prepares chicken kabobs. He is recreating dishes from his homeland, while also experimenting with spice blends and French cooking techniques. (Photo: Crixell Mathews/WCVE)


Noori: They sent me with my current family, which is my, beautiful wife, my four children, I've got two girls and two boys. They are at school right now. They are safe. They're working on their dreams. They always talk about the situation that we faced. I sometimes share my story with them cause they need to know what was going on and from which challenges we could survive and make it happen for them.

In Afghanistan, Chef Noori grew up fast. When he was 15, his father was killed by militants. To support his mother and siblings, he worked any job he could find. Many were very dangerous and didn't pay much. Food was hard to come by.

Noori: There was a time where we only had some bread and onions for months to survive.

But it turns out, his mom can make a meal out of anything. Once they found discarded potato skins behind a restaurant and with tomatoes, chilis, and spices, she turned it into a memorable dish Chef Noori still craves.

Noori: Her way of cooking is kind of magic and I could not find that taste.

Chef Noori is trying to harness some of that magic from his mother and use it to create his menu for The Mantu. He's taking traditional Afghan dishes like kebab and palau and turning them into a fine dining experience here in Richmond.


Faltz: I was talking to like a group of newly arrived refugees. They've been here, I believe for two or three weeks and now I'm using Chef Noori as a beacon, something for them to look forward to something for them to look up to.

Back when Chef Noori was prepping food for the salad bar at Ellwood Thompson's grocery store, C'Asha introduced him to Michael Sparks. He's the founder of the Underground Kitchen, a pop-up dining experience for local foodies. Michael hired Chef Noori for one of his events

Sparks: And he did such a beautiful representation of international dumplings and the Mantu just blew their minds.


The restaurant is named after the mantu, an afghan dumpling shaped like a rose and stuffed with halal beef or veggies. (Photo: Crixell Mathews/WCVE)


In Dari, one of Afghanistan's official languages, "man" means me and tu means "you," when you put the words together, you get Mantu, the tasty dumpling dish on the menu at Chef Noori’s new restaurant in Richmond's Carytown

Noori: There's a special power behind everybody. Just believe in yourself and then go for it.

Around the community table, Chef Noori toasts all of the partners who made this dream come true. The Mantu is set to open in the coming weeks.

For Virginia Currents, I'm Angela Massino, WCVE News.

10S Thompson Street
Richmond, Virginia 23221