Frequently Asked Questions

About the project

What’s the story behind Free to Feed?

Free to Feed was founded by Loretta and Daniel Bolotin in late 2015. Their express purpose was to assist refugees and people seeking asylum to:
(a) find meaningful employment opportunities using their existing skills and experiences, and
(b) facilitate community interconnectivity to break the stifling sense of social isolation often faced by these new arrivals.

While their work has expanded and grown, Loretta and Daniel still believe their initial mission to be grounding and relevant.

Free To Feed was truly started from scratch. It was administered from home, potential instructors were found through the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and classes were run in generously donated café spaces after hours. The community responded enthusiastically to their call to action to join and promote classes, and as the demand for Free to Feed classes grew, so did the job opportunities for its refugee cooks. Philanthropic support began to flow and enabled growth.

In 2016, with funds raised through The Funding Network, a fully kitted-out commercial kitchen was built in our Thornbury headquarters. Classes and feasts are now held here, around a large workshop table several nights a week.

With the expansion has come a growing team of dedicated Free To Feed employees, superstar volunteers and interns, and a wide network of collaborators in a variety of creative and business fields. It’s that support, as well as the participation of every class-goer and donations from the public, that makes possible the continuing, exciting evolution of the Free To Feed story.

What has Free to Feed achieved so far?

Free To Feed pop-up cooking school was named Melbourne’s #1 cooking school by Timeout in early 2017 and has provided casual employment to 23 people seeking asylum (at October 2017).

Our cooks-in-residence have run 400 employment-generating classes, put on events catering to around 3000 members of the public and have developed their own enterprises to promising stages.

How many people do you support per year?

Free to Feed trains and employs 12 cooking instructors per year and provides additional casual employment to a team of individuals from the refugee community. Now To Launch will directly engage with hundreds of people behind food start-ups through its ideation workshops. Its incubator is designed to see 60 food start-ups develop and launch over the next two years.

How are the asylum seekers and refugees recruited? 

We work with refugee support agencies such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Lentara Uniting Care, Foundation House and the Australian Red Cross to meet potential instructors. We foster relationships with many people who have a flare and passion for cooking and sharing their stories, and take each through training at the right pace until they’re ready to work in our food enterprises. We also recruit informally through the local community and word of mouth.

What is their training and qualification?

All Free to Feed cooking instructors have undertaken an innovative training program designed specifically to qualify them for working in our food enterprises and the Australian hospitality industry. They undertake assessment and training in cooking and communications skills, participate in trial gatherings, obtain food hygiene certification and receive ongoing mentoring from industry experts.  After 12 months of work with Free to Feed they’ll be supported to find sustainable employment in the industry or transition into the Now to Launch food incubator.

Are they professional cooks?

Our own grandmothers are the best cooks we know, and their qualification is a lifetime of experience. We apply this philosophy to Free to Feed. What’s important to remember is that we are not teaching our instructors how to cook – they already know how! We recruit those with serious talents in cooking their traditional cuisines. We support them to transfer their existing skills to a new environment and we’re building their capacity to present their unique stories.

Why cooking classes?

Refugees and asylum seekers often have compelling stories to tell but, for a range of reasons, don’t have the opportunity to share these experiences, nor to even connect with many people in their new communities in the first place. We believe that teaching plays an important role in providing a voice for this often-marginalised group, and that the intimate space of the kitchen is the best venue for it. One of the most positive outcomes of participating in Free to Feed for refugees and asylum seekers is developing their skills in expressing themselves and their stories, communicating and facilitating small groups.

Where does the money go?

All of your contributions are reinvested straight back into the running costs of Free to Feed. We are a registered charity and our ABN is 45613017682. Our outgoings include sourcing local ingredients, purchasing and maintaining kitchen equipment, training our cooks (including providing mentoring with industry professionals), renting and ever-developing our kitchen HQ in Thornbury, running our Now to Launch food incubator and, importantly, paying all of our staff a good wage!

Do you accept donations?

Thank you for asking! Yes, you can make one-off or regular tax-deductible donations to support Free to Feed and our Now to Launch food incubator. Please contact us to discuss the details on loretta@freeto.org.

About our classes

How long do Classes go for?
There’s no rush. Classes run for about three hours, allowing about two hours to prepare and cook, and then we sit down to feast.

What’s the address?
We’re at 763A High Street, Thornbury. The 86 tram stops very close by and we’re about a five-minute walk from Thornbury train station (South Morang line).

What’s the parking situation?
There is plenty of free parking on High Street, Smith Street (our nearest corner) and nearby.

Do your instructors speak English?
Yes. We require that our instructors speak basic English as a starting point. We also offer all our instructors free English tutoring support. But it is you who play a huge part in helping them feel more confident speaking English. They will come to your gathering ready to share their culture and cuisine. In turn, you become a part of their supporting community, advancing their language skills so that they can excel in the workforce and make new connections in Australia.

Where do the ingredients come from?
Every week, our instructors select the freshest ingredients from local markets and specialty stores. They will let you know in classes where they source less common but essential ingredients for their recipes.

If you’d like your ingredients to be strictly organic, we can source them from CERES and trusted butchers. It will cost extra, so we’ll have a chat about that when we know what you’re after.

What about vegetarians and other dietary requirements?
At Free To Feed we’re all about inclusivity – everyone’s preferences are welcome and catered for. A number of our classes are suitable for vegetarians and can be tailored for vegans. We also hold occasional veggie-based specific events, so sign up to our newsletter to stay up-to-date with what we’re planning.

We’re also keen to accommodate other dietary concerns and can quite easily adapt dish components to be gluten and lactose-free.

Can we choose the recipes that we will to cook?
No, it’s a surprise! You can get a sense of the kinds of dishes you’ll create from our class descriptions and from our tasty feed, but really, we just recommend trusting your instructor, as we do. They love to share their family recipes and dishes that have earned a special place in their cultures’ cuisines over generations, and you’ll love eating them, we promise.

About Home Experiences

How long are Home Experiences?
They’re usually around three hours. Allow for about two hours for prepping and cooking, and then you’ll sit down to a well-deserved feast! You may like to invite your instructor dine with you, your friends and family, but it’s entirely up to you all on the night.

How much time is required for set up and pack down?
Our team will arrive about an hour before your class starts to get things unpacked and ready to go. Clean up depends! Some groups potter and tidy as they go along; others leave it for the next morning. Our team are courteous and will clean up after themselves throughout the class but naturally there will be a little bit for you to do later.

How many people can join in?
Your Free To Feed Home Experience will work well for groups of 6 to 14 people, but we’re always open to accommodating more – just let us know.

Do I have to live in a particular suburb to host a Home Experience?
We love to visit homes all around Melbourne and Victoria. If we have to travel outside the metropolitan area, there will be an extra charge based on travel time. If you’re not sure you can fit everyone in at home (though squeezing in is always fun!), you’re welcome to hold your class at the Free To Feed HQ in Thornbury.

Can you recommend drinks to go with what we’ll be eating?
Yes! We partner with some amazing local beer and wine producers and vendors. If you’re interested in matching drinks to your Home Experience meal, please let us know when booking and we’ll tell you more about it.

About Workshops

How do Workshops, well, work?!
Suitable for groups of five to thirty, workshops encourage your team members to work together. Each workshop participant will have a task, and through guidance from our instructor and collaboration around the table, the preparations culminate in a delicious, well-earned feast that everyone feels proud to have contributed to.

How long do they go for?
Workshops normally go for about three hours. Allow for about two hours for prepping and cooking, and then you’ll sit down to a well-deserved feast! If you’d like a shorter session let us know at the time of booking and we’ll tailor a duration to suit.

What do we have to do for set-up and pack-down?
Free to Feed will manage all this. If you’re hosting a workshop at your office or studio, we will run you through our space requirements at the time of booking.

What if our workplace doesn’t have a kitchen?
No problem! We can host you in our purpose-built kitchen and gathering space in Thornbury. Alternatively, we have a number of partner cafés who offer us use of their spaces after hours.