Eritrean political refugee cooked for the IDF during ‘Operation Protective Edge’

The Israeli Chefs Association has chosen asylum seeker Younis Wolda, 24, as a candidate for an int’l competition in Romania, but there’s a snag: Younis may not be allowed to return to Israel.

By Adva Cohen


The following story encompasses three continents, an Eritrean refugee, a restaurant in Jaffa and Operation Protective Edge, with the plot centered on Younis Madhana Wolda, an Eritrean who arrived in Israel some seven years ago. Wolda began to work as a dishwasher in restaurants, until one day he was needed in the kitchen.

Younis cooking for IDF troops during Gaza fighting

Younis cooking for IDF troops during Gaza fighting – Courtesy

It was then that his natural talent for cooking became apparent. He was sent several months ago to the Holot detention center, despite being in possession of medical documents attesting to the fact that he suffers from diabetes. With the help of activists from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and assistance from Meretz MK Michal Rozin, he was finally released. For the past six months he has worked as a sous chef at the Costisa restaurant in the Jaffa Port.

“He came to us and I clicked with him immediately,” says the restaurant’s head chef, Roni Levy. “In all my years in the business, I have never encountered anyone like him. He is incredibly talented. I have never come across a chef who gets everything that I show him in an instant, such a huge talent. And the ridiculous thing is that he sometimes betters me and people prefer his food to mine.”

As part of his work at the restaurant, Younis went down south during Operation Protective Edge and cooked along with Levy for soldiers in the field and the wounded at the hospitals.

Younis: “During the war, the chef asked me to go with him to cook for soldiers in the south. We cooked for soldiers at the hospitals and other locations in the field, and it was very moving.”

Younis’ talents duly impressed the Israeli Chefs Association, which decided to send him, along with a number of other Israeli chefs, to the Global Chefs Challenge that takes place this year in Romania. The problem is that Younis is an illegal resident in Israel, and if he travels to Romania, he may not be able to return. In order to leave for the competition, which begins in two days, he needs special permission from the interior minister.

For now, it appears his dream is about to be shattered. Younis: “The competition is very important to me. I want to be a chef; I am good at it and I enjoy it, and people tell me I have a talent for cooking. But because I don’t have a visa, I am afraid that if I leave, even for a competition at which I will be representing Israel, I won’t be able to return.”

Levy: “This young guy is very talented. We at the association are sure that he will do us proud at the competition. I am sure that if he were to go to the competition, he would win a medal. I believe that if he had legal status in Israel, he would become one of the leading chefs in the country.”

MK Rozin, who chairs the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, is currently trying to help Younis realize his dream, to travel to the competition and to return too. “Younis is a shining example of an asylum seeker who has succeeded against all odds to fit in here and make a contribution,” she said.


View original Ynet publication at:,7340,L-4569272,00.html