How To Eat Like A Feminist

Photo: Courtesy of Mara Klein.
Nikandre Kopcke knew that to get her dream operation off the ground, she needed 30 friends with £25 each. That, and the memories of her Greek godmother Maria Marouli, who instilled in her a very important concept: "Eláte na fáte mazí mas." ("Come eat with us.")

Thus, Mazí Mas, the ad hoc restaurant series making an impression in London and all over the world, was born. Mazí Mas chefs are exclusively immigrant women, and as much as their goal is to produce delicious and nourishing food, it's also to learn from and teach one another. As a result, a unique feminist dynamic is created. 
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Photo: Courtesy of Mazí Mas.
Aissatou Diagne; Senegal. Signature dish: Thieboudienne (fish, rice and tomato sauce).
"I built Mazí Mas by seeing a problem and finding a way of fixing it," Kopcke says. "I was tired of hearing feminists reject the skills that women have cultivated as a result of gender oppression. It’s important to my feminism to reclaim and value them, and not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. An older woman is never going to retrain to become a CEO. That's of no interest to her!"

Educated at New York's United Nations International School, Kopcke is a woman for all women, and while the immigrant cooks she found in London's kitchens may not harbor dreams of boardrooms and six-figure-salaries, they are interested in sustainable careers that validate their skills and talents. Mazí Mas has given them an arena to do just that.

For inspiration, Kopcke looked to women like Alice Waters — the famous slow-food activist and owner of Berkeley's Chez Panisse — and socially responsible restaurants like New York's Hot Bread Kitchen. At Mazí Mas, women's roles as mothers and homemakers are not considered liabilities or deterrents to employment. "That women are mothers is part of our core business model," Kopcke explains. "If that means that they have to go and pick up a child, we will organize things. Using this very community-focused, cooperative model, women can cover for each other."

Photo: Courtesy of Mazí Mas.
Roberta Siao; Brazil. Signature dish: Moqueca (fish stew with coconut milk, peppers, tomatoes, coriander and lime).

Mazí Mas is just finishing a run at South London's Ovalhouse, an experimental theater that is a fitting, albeit temporary, home for Kopcke's traveling troupe. In describing the restaurant, Kopcke eschews the phrase "pop-up," which conjures an elitist ethos; instead, Mazí Mas attempts to remove the cook-to-patron boundary by hosting interactive dinners in community cafes and allowing interested customers to volunteer behind the scenes. As a result, friendships are made and valuable lessons are learned.

Currently, the chefs at Mazí Mas represent Brazil, Iran, Ethiopia, Turkey, Senegal, and Peru. In the future, Kopcke hopes to recruit South and East Asian chefs, and plans to spread the physical and figurative presence of Mazí Mas from its British and Australian outposts to the rest of the world. It's all pretty amazing when you consider the fact that Kopcke embarked on this journey partly so she could learn how to cook.

"I’ve been introduced to do many different cuisines because of Mazi Mas," Kopcke says. "There are things from each one that are so explosive. It’s so much fun. I’ve created my dream job in many ways. I just love to eat."
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