Our dinners are designed to occur in a communal setting, with each meal comprising dishes that showcase the different backgrounds and cultures our invited chefs hail from. Every dinner will vary in location, cuisine, and community. In the spirit of Muhibbah, we request that our guests enter each restaurant with an empty belly, an open mind, and a full heart. As you share your meal with others around you, relish the occasion as one that America needs but yet is increasingly fleeting: reach across the table and ask your fellow diners about what inspires them, and what you can do to help make them feel more welcome in our melting pot.
October 23, 2018
The Fifth Dinner
1927 E Passyunk Avenue,
Philadelphia, PA 19148
Damon Menapace is the Executive Chef of Le Virtù and Brigantessa, in charge of all daily operations at the former and menu development at the latter. He opened and ran Fishtown’s Kensington Quarters and oversaw several other restaurants as part of the 13th Street Kitchens restaurant group. At Kensington Quarters, he established a citywide reputation for eclectic, fun, and above all delicious menus with broad appeal and no pretense. His butchering and meat curing skills, which informed an integral part of KQ’s identity, are known throughout Philly and have allowed Le Virtù to expand its menu and commitment to sustainable and locally raised meats. Damon’s first professional Italian cooking experiences were as part of the Vetri Family, working as a Sous at Osteria and then opening Alla Spina as its original Chef. His roots are in rustic Italian cooking (and his familial line traces to “the boot” as well). At Le Virtù he explores his passion for the simple, ingredient-driven cuisine of rural Italy, using the best local and imported ingredients.
James and Jason Mills
The Spicy Belly
Brothers, James and Jason Mills, are originally from New York City and bring their culinary vision and their take on a new cuisine to the Philadelphia area. James is a self-taught chef with primary focus on Jamaican and Korean cuisine. This magical food combination arose from their multiracial parents, with their mother being from South Korea and their father from Jamaica. Fueled by their parents’ home cooking, two brothers expanded their culinary visions and created an establishment to highlight their multicultural cuisine. After an eye-opening trip to Jamaica in 2011, the bold idea to bring their unique background to the table was born. Living in the nearby neighborhood of Manayunk, James and Jason saw this neighborhood as a forefront to introduce their food culture to its Philly natives.
Sofia Deleon immigrated from Guatemala to East Lansing, Michigan 10 years ago to pursue a BA in Food Industry management. However, her passion for food started at a much younger age. In high school she sold homemade ice creams and started a small catering company with dreams of owning of a restaurant of her own. After earning her BA, and then MBA in Food Marketing, Deleon has realized that dream.
Earlier this year, Deleon opened El Merkury, broken Spanish for The Market, a Central American street food and churro-bar restaurant in Center City. The food is based on the Mayan staples of corn, beans, chiles, and chocolate and has influences of Spanish cuisine, all translated into a fast casual menu. In addition to the savory food and churros, El Merkury has a retail section that features handmade goods whose profits support Micro-loans for indigenous women in Guatemala. It was named Best Fast Casual by Philly Mag a couple months after it opened.
My Soy Café
Alice Leung is chef-owner of Soy Café, established 2004. Leung brings a variety of cuisines to her restaurant, located in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood. Chef Alice is a graduate of New York’s Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Being a health advocate, Alice is a plant-based wellness chef who provides holistic and wholesome meals for her clients.
Originally from Hong Kong, the food paradise of Asia, Chef Alice blends many cultures to create healthy and tasty food for her clients. Flavor profiles are often based on simple seasonings with herbs and plants, including hearty greens, grains, and blending traditional plant-based fare with a modern twist.
VARNANA “V” Beuria is chef/owner of Chhaya Cafe. A native of India, she earned an economics degree from Penn and a degree in culinary arts from Philly’s Restaurant School.
Bistrot La Minette
Kenneth Bush grew up cooking by his mother’s side. Though he originally intended on training as a chef, he couldn’t turn down his acceptance to Yale University. After graduating Yale in 2001 he managed restaurants in Maryland and Washington DC. In 2009 he moved to Philadelphia and changed his focus to the kitchen. Here in Philly he spent three years with Bistrot La Minette, working his way up from the garde-manger station to the lead sous chef. In 2011 he won the prestigious Questlove Cook Off. In 2012 he left the bistrot to work for Garces Trading Company as a sous chef. In January 2014 he returned to Bistrot La Minette as the Executive Chef.
Ange grew up in her grandmother’s kitchen where she learned the traditional techniques of Malaysian cooking, a cuisine that bears the influence of multiple cultures dating back to the 14th century when Malaysia was a spice trading hub. Though she grew up in a culinary family, she spent the first part of her career in business consulting, which landed her in the US. After years of living abroad, her nostalgia for the flavors of home coupled with what she perceived as a dying appreciation for humble Malaysian cuisine back home inspired Ange to open Saté Kampar, a restaurant focusing on saté (skewered meat grilled on coconut shell charcoal) and traditional Malaysian cooking made from scratch. The restaurant quickly became one of Philly’s top restaurants and was nominated for the James Beard Award.
The diversity of food and culture that Ange grew up with in Malaysia inspired the Muhibbah Dinners. From the open kitchen at Saté Kampar, she watches diners from different backgrounds enjoy dinner served in both halal and non-halal preparations: everyone feeling at home, comfortable and happy. The true feeling of Muhibbah — when people of multiple cultures, races and religions come together in peace and tolerance — is best appreciated when a good meal is shared. Ange started Muhibbah Dinners to bring together chefs of different backgrounds and cultures to celebrate the diversity with diners in Philadelphia.