Sharing food, love and understanding
Arad Niksefat’s beaming smile and infectious optimism have made him a customer favourite at weekend markets across south eastern Tasmania, and his delicious, beautifully presented handcrafted Persian sweets and treats have developed a steadily-growing loyal following.
Niksefat loves to meet people at the markets he frequents, and enjoys watching their faces when they taste his produce: “It’s beautiful,” he says. “It makes them lovely.”
But beyond the pride he feels in sharing the food of his culture, Niksefat also has an important story to tell, and one that he wants to share in the hope that it will help others.
In 2012, he was forced to flee his home in south western Iran – where he had worked as a pathologist before being persecuted and imprisoned for writing about and advocating for his Ahwazi Arabic minority group – and seek asylum in Australia. After more than a year in various detention centres (during which he suffered a heart attack), he was eventually released in Melbourne, albeit under strict bridging visa conditions. He is now on a SHEV (Safe Haven Enterprise Visa), which only permits him to work in designated SHEV zones. This eventually led him to Tasmania, where he has now lived for almost a year.
“I start to learn English, improve my language,” he tells Eativity. “I work hard and I start to do my business in Australia, with the name Persia’s Pantry.”
“I try to connect two cultures through my food – between Australian culture and Iranian culture,” he says. “Like the rocket seeds are Iranian but the nuts are from Tasmania.
“I use local, organic ingredients where possible, to bring my mother’s recipes to life and delight Aussie tastebuds and give new experiences to them.”
Niksefat is now working hard to grow his business, and wants to use his success to help other refugees of all cultures find work, or even build their own business.
“My plan in the future is to find a good commercial kitchen and a cool room,” he says. “I am wanting Persia’s Pantry to grow and be part of a social enterprise to support other refugees and provide training, work and positive inclusion in the community. We can work together, support each other and help each other.”
By sharing his story (he’s even in the process of writing a book), spreading the love with beautiful food and helping other refugees, Niksefat wants to help change the negative perception that some Australians still have about asylum seekers.
“We are refugees; we are seeking asylum,” he asserts. “We are seeking freedom, understanding and safety, but we are not seeking Centrelink. I want to try to change public opinion about us. We work really, really hard. We are standing on our own feet. Just please listen to our story before you judge.”
Niksefat’s journey from Iranian pathologist to Tasmanian food producer has been a long and difficult one, and a lesser human would perhaps be bitter and filled with anger and resentment. But this incredible man literally bursts with positivity and optimism.
“This is my home now,” he says of Australia. “I love this country. I love these people. And I always talk with people about ‘boat people’. Never, ever judge – show them love and respect and they will respect you. Show them the best, we show you the best.
“I try to connect with people through food, through love, through respect, through sharing stories. But the best of them? Food and love.” We could not agree more.
For those of you in Tassie, you can check out which market Persia’s Pantry will be at and when by following Persia’s Pantry on Facebook. For the rest of Australia, there’s still plenty of love to go around – you can order from the online shop. Right now, you can pick up a beautiful gift pack of Persian Love Dates with rose petals as a special gift for your Valentine.