Expert article
Home Silk Road - Housing toward empowerment Lyon Metropole, France
Modifier 07 March 2022
by Ruth Owen, UIA expert

Cooking up an Inclusive City!

Elise Picard
Article on the opening of BaklAAVA restaurant/caterers on the Home Silk Road site

At the end of February 2022, a new restaurant and caterer opened its doors on the Home Silk Road site in Villeurbanne. Much-delayed, for the most part due to the COVID19 pandemic, this important feature of the project is finally up-and-running.

BaklAAVA serves global cuisine, with a focus on seasonal, organic and local produce. On the day I visited, the team was busy preparing a menu of chicory, comté and walnut salad, chicken and olive tagine and Tarte Tatin. It was delicious! BaklAAVA offers individual meals and group catering, delivered across Villeurbanne and Lyon. Two teams of four trainee chefs work in a professional kitchen housed in a modular unit on the Home Silk Road site. They are seven women and one man from countries all over the world.

The name BaklAAVA refers to a traditional pastry from the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East. It reflects the diverse roots of the trainees, and the global cuisine on the menu.  It also includes the acronym AAVA. This refers to Workshop for Adapting to Active Life” (Atelier d’Adaptation à la Vie Active (AAVA). These structures, defined by French legislation, help those furthest from the labour market to develop skills for working life. They are provided exclusively by organisations, like Alynea, that run emergency accommodation and social insertion centres (CHRS).  AAVA are very diverse and can help people who are far from the labour market for a wide variety of reasons.

For people who cannot legally work or train in France due to their administrative status, AAVA’s offer an opportunity to gain experience and to participate in society. BaklAAVA’s trainees are residents of temporary shelter provided by Alynea. Some of them live on the Home Silk Road site, others elsewhere in Grand Lyon. They are currently without a regular residence status in France and are therefore confronted with poverty and social exclusion. Becoming a trainee here does not provide qualifications, nor is it regular employment. But it is a way for people who cannot currently work to learn and to gain hands-on work experience.  It is enriching, can help with French language, create social links, and support integration into the community. Trainees in AAVA are renumerated at between 30 and 80% of the minimum wage SMIC. 

One of the aims of BaklAAVA is to celebrate and share the diverse culinary cultures of the trainees. They teach each other recipes, as well as learning classical French cuisine. The project coordinator, Elise Picard, has a background in youth work and food. She speaks passionately of the power of food to bring people together and help create inclusive communities. One of the advantages of cooking, she says, is that everybody has existing skills that can be valorised, built upon, and shared. For example, the recipe for the main dish on today’s menu is one from a trainee’s home repertoire. Elise hopes that completing a 6-month programme at BaklAAVA will support the trainees’ regularisation processes. She adds that the catering industry faces a major shortage of workers, so could offer future perspectives for people if they obtain legal residence and the right to work.

Now launched, BaklAAVA is in a start-up phase of testing out ideas and refining its model. As with many innovative projects, there have been changes and adaptations along the way, and the future is not entirely mapped out. The project was initially conceived as a walk-in eatery for the general public. However, COVID19 had such a negative impact on the restaurant industry that the project partners decided to change tact. Even without COVID, footfall on the site is low, especially because the construction phase of the project is now advanced, and there would have been fewer customers than during the temporary occupation phase. Alynea would like to use BaklAAVA to provide meals to its shelters and other services across the city. However, the volume of demand is too large for a small, new team of trainees with capacity to open 4 days a week. Shelters require hundreds of meals every day. The current plan is therefore to focus on private orders for delivery. This is a manageable scale for the operation and will allow BaklAAVA to develop its profile, as well as to focus on training and building up beneficiaries’ experience. 

The longer-term future holds many questions. The model will be put to the test in the coming months. The trainees will pursue their individual pathways. When the construction on the Home Silk Road site is finished, the mobile kitchen will move elsewhere. It will be a challenge to find the right site. This was not defined in the project's initial plans. Learning over the coming months will inform thinking about this. One unforeseen complication is that bringing the module into line with health and safety regulations for a professional kitchen required structural work that will make transport more difficult.     

The most obvious limitation of this initiative is that the trainees are stuck in a precarious administrative situation that precludes their full inclusion in society. BaklAAVA cannot directly address this.  This is arguably the biggest challenge faced by the Home Silk Road project overall; it can enrich and improve people’s lives through innovative and inclusive actions in housing, social support, training, culture. But it has not been able to resolve the fact that many of them are stuck in a limbo without recognised residence rights, and thus exposed to poverty and exclusion. Of course, project partner Alynea works on this through the social support it provides to residents of its shelters. Part of the logic of the Home Silk Road project is that providing people with stable living conditions and good social support can help them to access rights, including residence status. Some residents have had their status regularised since the project started.

One month in, BaklAAVA is already making great food and offering people a chance to be part of a professional kitchen and build up skills and knowledge. There are already more requests to participate than spaces for trainees. The months ahead will be busy and challenging.  I wish the team at BaklAAVA every success with their work.

A team of trainee chefs at work
Source: BaklAAVA