Linton Magume says he was 17-years-old when he left Zimbabwe after rebelling against the government of Robert Mugabe, and that was in 2002.
Facing persecution in Harare, he moved to the UK to seek asylum and found his place in Leicester where he eventually settled.
But he arrived with no qualifications and was unable to work while he was seeking asylum. To fill his days he became passionate about food after watching cooking shows on TV and decided to try out a few recipes.
Linton volunteered at various charities and projects in the city to stay proactive and share his hobby with others.
He became the head chef of the Global Kitchen a collaborative project run by Art-Reach Leicester and Soft Touch Arts that brings together refugees and asylum seekers in the city through food.
“I was always the rebel of the family,” he said. “I didn’t agree with the Zimbabwean government and both my parents worked for them.”
As a teenager, he was arrested for rallying against Zimbabwean authorities and soon after left the country.
He found himself sofa-surfing before seeking asylum in Leicester where he was supported by Leicester charity, City of Sanctuary.
“I always wanted to be a chef. When I had nothing to do I would watch cooking shows like the one’s with Gordon Ramsey and I started trying out some recipes when I had the chance,” he said.
The amateur cook’s practice started to pay off when he started volunteering at Soft Touch Arts – a charity that aims to change the lives of disadvantaged, young people through creativity.
“When I started off there for some reason it just felt amazing,” he said.
When Global Kitchen launched, it was an ad hoc, free-of-charge dining club that invited asylum seekers and refugees to share a meal together and watch demonstrations led by Linton.
Linton said: “To be honest I would never just approach anyone in the street but in the kitchen, I met so many different people.
“It’s not just about cooking – we talk to each other and learn about each other’s cultures and backgrounds.
“The talking and bonding with people is the best part.”
Linton became an instrumental part of Global Kitchen, which gave him a creative space to explore his passion and led to his job.
After a long wait of almost 20 years, he gained refugee status in 2019, enabling him to work.
At the age of 37, he got his first job as a chef at Revolution, a bar in Leicester city centre and was hailed as one of the best members of the kitchen staff at their Christmas Party.
“Now I can go on holiday, I have a bank card and I can go outside the city – but I still never forget where I’ve come from,” he said.
The chef continued to lead Global Kitchen sessions.
“The last time there were 28 of us around that table were at least 15 different languages spoken,” he said.
But now, due to the lack of funding, the organisers do not know when the next session will be and launched a crowdfunding page in the hopes of making it regular.
Nicola Middler, a producer from Art-Reach Leicester and Christina Wigmore from Soft Touch Arts are the women behind the initial idea.
“We were thinking of ways to bring people together and we just kept coming back to food,” Nicola said.
Nicola is the producer of Journeys Festival which takes place in Leicester in the Summer where refugees come together to celebrate different cultures through art and creativity.
“We try to dispel misconceptions about refugees and asylum seekers.
“People enjoy cooking and sharing food – I think that’s the same for all countries and cultures,” she said.
Initially, Nicola and Christina invited guests into the kitchen to watch cooking demonstrations but found that people wanted to get “stuck in.”
“We’ve had people sat together who probably would never have met and food on the same plates that usually wouldn’t be,” Nicola said.
After such a positive response to the project, the organisers want to make sure that Global Kitchen continues on a bi-monthly basis and even hope to release a cookbook.
“It’s a really simple but fantastic project – it’s breaking down some of those barriers,” Christina said.
The pair are hoping to raise £7,788 by February 3 which will cover the costs of running the project this year.