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Part III of IV: Cross-Cultural Perspectives — Thriving Amid Pandemic — NYC, USA

Chef Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim in front of a Brooklyn, USA building. credit: Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim

In New York City, USA, Global Nomad and Chef Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim, 38, offers practical food advice to get you through the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. He gives actionable steps that anyone can use to thrive during a pandemic when store shelves are nearly empty.

As a chef, I was able to absorb the culture of international food first-hand. Tasting what freshness and Non-GMO meant … the care and attention to quality, presentation details and ingredients whilst remaining simple and pure … was unique to see. Also, I appreciated the amount of history behind the food and what it meant to the people [in each country].

— Chef Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim.
NYC -- Brooklyn based Chef Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim standing outside during the COVID-19 pandemic
Chef Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim standing outside in Brooklyn, USA during the COVID-19 pandemic. credit: Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim

Before the pandemic, Mustapha was an executive chef at a Park Avenue club in Manhattan, USA. He is also a culinary teacher and restaurant consultant at Herbncooking. Mustapha picked up many lessons and local knowledge during his travels in Japan, Canada, Panama and throughout Europe.

photo of a bowl of Asian fusion cuisine--rice noodles, shrimp, sesame chicken, and various vegetables
A bowl of Asian fusion cuisine. credit: Matthew James Berrafato

Advice for thriving during a pandemic

During the initial, new coronavirus ‘lock down,’ whilst everyone seemed to buy toilet paper and pounds of perishable goods, I was planning for the future (and) trying to be as self-sustainable during these hard times as much as possible.

Chef Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim

Mustapha’s maternal grandfather always had a passion for cooking, feeding, and generally taking care of his family. His grandfather taught about growing an edible garden, knowing when to plant and to harvest, and how to till and fertilize the land.

Photo of fresh cut vegetables on a cutting board in a modern kitchen
Vegetables on a cutting board in preparation for cooking. credit: Matthew James Berrafato

Companion planting for pandemic gardening

Chef Mustapha also learned other useful food production practices like the use of ‘companion planting.’ Growing basil and tomatoes in close proximity because they each provide nutrients that will benefit the other vegetable, for example.

My maternal grandfather — Herman Alexander — instilled in me the benefits of keeping a pantry and a freezer stocked. He learned from his family how to craft handmade sauces and jams with what he had freshly available. (I remember) baking fresh breads and learning how to prepare almost everything by hand. His lessons (helped) me to already know what was needed to survive anything — including a pandemic.”

Chef Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim

Prepare for food insecurity caused by pandemic — don’t panic

Before NYC’s stay-at-home order was put in place, The first thing Mustapha did to prepare was gather soil and seeds so that he could have fresh fruit and vegetables.

Next, “I stocked up the pantry with dried goods and canned food. I made sure (there) was a variety of proteins, starches, grains, cereals, and flours. [I] bulked up the freezer and only purchased enough fresh items to just get by,” he says.

Various colored vegetables on a cutting board in preparation for cooking
Vegetables grown in a home garden to prevent food insecurity. credit: Matthew Berrafato

Crops may fail — be prepared

Mustapha’s paternal grandmother, Fannie Bracy, was a ten-year-old living on her family’s hobby farm during the 1930s. The lessons that she learned about preventing food waste are what she taught her own children.

She used to warn that crops may fail, a job might end, or stores may not have what you need. She also passed along the tradition of a home garden. She encouraged using what you have before buying more, and sharing what you have with family and neighbors from her African and Indigenous American roots.

In his maternal grandparents’ home, leftover broccoli from dinner would make its way into a breakfast omelet — instead of the compost bin.

These shared traditions and philosophies from those living in-between cultures can be applied by everyone to calmly manage pandemic survival.

A Chef preparing to take a sip from a glass
Chef Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim in a relaxing moment. credit: Mustapha Abdul-Rahiim

We are going to talk with Arina Merkulova about wisdom and practices from her Russian heritage — in part three of this series on the COVID-19 pandemic survival.

You can catch up on the previous installment, click here.

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