Hawa Jimiez hails from Liberia. She used to work a cleaning job, but now, she’s a chef at a restaurant in Staten Island, where she cooks up Liberian dishes and shares a taste of her country with the New York City crowd.
“I love cooking,” said Hawa Jimiez, a Liberian grandmother.
The restaurant she works at is called Enoteca Maria. Originally serving just Italian cuisine, Jody Scaravella, an Italian himself, started the restaurant when his mother and grandmother passed away, and he was left missing the comfort food he had grown up with.
Scaravella then put an advertisement out for Italian “nonnas” – or grandmothers – to cook at the restaurant. The response was overwhelming; seeing the concept take off and the joy it brought to diners knowing the food they’re eating is as authentic as they come, Scaravella began hiring “nonnas” from other countries too.
The main kitchen is staffed by at least one Italian “nonna”; downstairs, grandmothers from other countries take turns on a rotating basis, cooking up a storm when it’s their evening to shine.
On one night, the hearty dishes of Liberia – courtesy of Jimiez – might be on the menu. The next, diners may have their pick among Polish, Syrian or Nigerian specialties.
Since 2007, Enoteca Maria has proven itself to be a popular concept for diners longing for a simpler time; it’s also giving grandmothers employment in a skill they’ve honed with experience – dishing up food that’s straight from the heart.