Mamma’s Kitchen is giving women from Flemington and Ascot Vale valuable cooking skills and experience while helping those in need.

A photo of two women cooking in a professional kitchen wearing chef jackets.

Sara Zakaria and Halima Ahmed at work at Mamma's Kitchen.

In the past few months Sherafe Moulana has seen her dreams come true, gaining new skills, industry experience and a job that helps feed her community.

Sherafe is one of 14 women from the Flemington and Ascot Vale housing estates cooking nutritious, culturally appropriate meals for community members who are doing it tough.

The women are employed by Mamma’s Kitchen, a Moonee Valley City Council program designed to give the mostly East African women experience in commercial cookery and support to set up their own businesses, while feeding people in need.

“Mamma’s Kitchen is a good learning place for us,” Sherafe says. “My dream has come true. I learned my cooking and then I said I needed a good place to work… and I have an opportunity to work here.”

Mamma’s Kitchen was established after discussions with the community about how to overcome barriers to employment. The program receives funding from Jobs Victoria.

The Employment & Entrepreneurship Support Officer for Mamma’s Kitchen, Awatif Taha, says caring for young children was a significant barrier for many of the women, who found it difficult to work far from home.

“We decided to do this so people could build on their qualifications,” Awatif said. “The practical experience they get from this project will help them if they want to work in childcare, catering, school canteens, aged care, or work as chefs in commercial kitchens.”

All the women have food qualifications but are upgrading their skills and certification under the direction of executive chef Harris Ryan.

“Even for those of us who have cooked all our lives, there is a lot that is new,” said Mamma’s Kitchen employee, Fahan Ahmed.

“We are learning how to use new equipment, how to write menus, write recipes, follow the directions for food safety. All these things will give women confidence to open their own businesses. The kids only see their dads working, so to see mums working is very important. Women feel strong working here.”

The women work part-time in the commercial kitchen at Clocktower Centre in Moonee Ponds, cooking and packaging fresh food bought mainly from Flemington traders.

The meals are given to the Wingate Avenue Community Centre and the Flemington People’s Pantry, who distribute them to people in need.

“What Mamma’s Kitchen does for the women is to build confidence in an environment that is unfamiliar,” Harris said. “We’ve got women here who when they started couldn’t look another person in the eye, whose first response would be that they don’t speak English.”

The same women now communicate, stand tall and are proud of the service they deliver, he says.

“We are providing people with confidence-building experience, industry experience and we are feeding people in need, we are providing solutions for food relief.”

Mamma’s Kitchen continues to support the women after they’ve completed the program in areas such as food production, business development or by extending their training.

Many now have plans for the future.

“There is more opportunity for mums to get employed in the future and also encourage mums to go out and apply for jobs,” another of the employees, Suad Ibrahim, said.

Sherafe agrees.

“From this experience I can go outside and I can run my own business,” she said. “All the women are very kind, very helpful. I can learn from them, they can learn from me. We are working as friends in here.”

Harris hopes the pilot program might grow into an ongoing operation.

“In our first week we made 100 meals. By week three we made 700, feeding approximately 150 families in need.

“The council is doing something very positive here. I definitely think this pilot program has the potential to be a viable commercial operation, but at the very least it is an opportunity to embrace learning for a community that has faced difficult times,” he says.

“Personally, I am getting exposure to East African culture and cuisine that as a chef I’ve never had. I feel very fortunate to be able to learn as much as I teach.”

Find out more about job and training opportunities.

A chef explains something to his staff in a professional kitchen.

Harris Ryan (Executive Chef), Sherifa Moulana, Halima Farah, Fahan Ahmed and Sofiya Duksiye at work at Mamma's Kitchen.