In 2009, Helena Setagrew arrived in Australia, determined to find a way to bring the flavours of Ethiopia to her new home. She dreamt of opening an Ethiopian restaurant and sharing her injera (flatbread) and dorowete (chicken stew) with her new neighbours and community.
Helena was unable to find a restaurant to rent that fit her budget, but this did not deter her.
“Cooking is always inside me," she said, "I had to find a way to cook and share my country's beautiful food."
She saw the North Richmond Community Grants as a stepping stone towards making her dream a reality. Grant funding would mean she could gain more cooking experience and allow her to test dishes she hoped to cook in her own restaurant one day.
When Helena heard that her application was successful, she didn’t spend much time celebrating - she had an event to organise. “I was so nervous about my first event. I made too much food! The night before, I cooked untiI 4am, then got up at 7am to make sure everything was ready for my first event,” Helena said.
As it turned out, there was nothing for Helena to worry about. The combination of her mouth-watering cooking, along with traditional dancing, singing and games was a celebration of Ethiopian culture enjoyed by everyone.
“I only ever use traditional fresh, organic ingredients in my cooking, including spices I order from Ethiopia. Even people who aren’t Ethiopian told me how delicious my food was.”
Helena knew she was onto a winner and was determined to make each event bigger and better than the one before. “My grant gave me the chance to practice cooking for big groups of people. I have learned so much. I don’t over-cater anymore, and I start prepping a couple of days before each event, so no more going to bed at 4am!
Fast forward a few months, and not only are more and more people attending Helena’s cultural celebrations, but she has also opened Sinq - her very own restaurant in Ascot Vale.
“The North Richmond Community Grant helped me improve my skills which has given me so much confidence.
I’m very busy with my restaurant and my catering project, but I am so happy. I get a very, very good feeling when I see people enjoying my food. My dream has come true.”