By Rose Barrett
POLITICAL activist Ellie Kisyombe is stirring up another kind of storm as she brings her culinary expertise to a new range of signature sauces.
After years fighting to end Direct Provision – and a successful campaign to deliver cooking facilities for asylum seekers – she has now lauched Ellie’s Kitchen Home Edition.
Just 18 months after receiving her Irish residency, Ellie has achieved what she always wanted – to be independent, self-sufficient and to make a contribution to her adopted country.
Co-founder of the award-winning social enterprise, Our Table in 2015, Ellie has been instrumental in building a greater awareness of, and trying to end the Direct Provision system here.
“I came to Ireland almost a decade ago, in my late twenties with my twin children, Tina and Maurice,” she told Dublin Gazette.
“I had a privileged upbringing in Malawi, where both my father and uncle were well known and respected within our community. Sadly, my father died suddenly, and my mother soon after him, along with other family members.
“I was a bit of rebel, and got involved in politics against the governing regime. Without the protection of my family, I needed to leave for all our safety.”
With a good command of English, social and cooking skills, Ellie felt frustrated by the restrictions here.
She recalls: “Like all asylum seekers in Ireland, I was denied the right to work, or even the basic right to cook for myself and my family. It was far worse back then, you could do absolutely nothing.
“My allowance was €19.10 – now it’s about €38 per adult. I did not want to be a burden on the state, I was grateful to find a new home but I couldn’t even do an upskill or training course. I wanted to contribute, to support my family but for eight years, I could do absolutely nothing.”
She continued: “Some people thought we were living a comfortable life in Direct Provision. But as I started meeting with Irish people, they were very sympathetic once they realised the way the system worked.”
There are 4,300 people seeking asylum in Ireland. They are given a small allowance to live on, and have no choice but to eat food prepared at set times on an industrial scale by companies profiting from the system.
Ellie said: “There is a ban on cooking in their rooms. Only a handful can, those who live at the centre that was formerly Butlin’s Mosney, these have small kitchens at least.
“Some people secretly cook in toilets just to prepare something they like to eat and there are regular reports of hungry residents at night or being presented with low quality, culturally inappropriate snacks.
“There should be fresh, culturally appropriate food cooked on the premises and provided fresh daily, not mass produced and often low in nutritional value.”
Prior to gaining her Irish residency, Ellie was running Our Table to teach others the basic skills needed to cook.
She explained: “Through Our Table, they could learn skills, be paid a wage, and gain invaluable experience of the Irish food industry.
“Alas, then came the pandemic. I’m continuing my associations with Our Table and will donate a percentage of the profits in the future to help sustain the organisation’s campaigning and training.”
Combining the skills she learnt from cooking with her mother and aunt in Malawi, together with her experience through Our Table, Ellie completed a 12-week course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in January 2017.
Her new product range has been created in a production kitchen in Dundrum, Dublin. The 250 ml bottles of Smokey Lemon Hot Sauce and Mild Lemon & Herb Hot Sauce are €6 plus delivery; the 100ml Extra Extra Hot Chilli Sauce is €5.50 plus delivery.
Sauces are gluten free, vegan friendly and best served on meat or vegetables, and in curries or casseroles.
Both of the Pasta Sauces are available in 375ml at €4.49 plus delivery, with the 500ml size costing €4.99 plus delivery).
Ellie’s sauces can be ordered online for delivery nationwide at www.ellieskitchenhomeedition.com and will be stocked in independent food stores nationwide in the coming weeks.