Through the portraits, we share the rich and diverse personal stories of women and non-binary folks, shedding light on their journeys and accomplishments. Using their contribution to the food industry as an entry point, we touch on their journeys, philosophies, and accomplishments—creating conversations with staying power.

A passionate and dedicated facilitator, Ricarda Bochat works behind the scenes to build community and create connections between the people of Berlin through the preparation and sharing of food. She runs the kitchen and produces the community events of Open Kitchen, a cooking project of Give Something Back to Berlin. She also oversees initiatives such as supporting the Berliner Opdachlosenhilfe (Berlin Homeless Help) with cooking and delivering food to the most vulnerable members of this community.

Give Something Back to Berlin (GSBTB) is a non-profit organization, platform, and network that seeks to break down the limiting and often dehumanizing term “refugee” and connect the diverse inhabitants of the city with each other, regardless of their background and story. The organization is housed within Sharehouse Refugio, an independent cooperative housing project of Die Berliner Stadtmission (the Berlin City Mission) in Neukölln that connects newly arrived people and longtime residents of Berlin with programming and events such as a community dinner every Friday, which GSBTB takes over once a month.  

As Ricarda explains, Open Kitchen, GSBTB and Refugio are all intertwined. “Technically, we only rent spaces here. But obviously with the nature of the game, we’re very much part of the community. We skillshare. We work together on a lot of things. There is a lot of overlap, we can’t really pull ourselves apart and say, ‘This is you and this is us.’” Similarly, Ricarda’s personal and professional lives overlap. She lives her work, and can often be found at Refugio during her personal time. “When I’m home and bored, this is the first place I would go because I always meet someone [by chance] in the cafe. It is community; it is like family. It is that home away from home for many people.”

Ricarda’s journey to arrive at GSBTB was not a linear one, as she originally studied and worked in fashion. She worked in gastronomy as a student, became an avid baker in her free time, and was even offered a pastry chef position at a restaurant where she worked. She took a break from university to train as a chef but quickly realized, “I’m not made for that level of pressure. I don’t want to do twelve-hour shifts.” 

During an eight-month stay in India and Nepal, she witnessed the 2015 earthquake, Nepal’s deadliest earthquake in 81 years. There she joined NGOs and helped with the rebuilding. “For me, it was a reminder that yes, you can actually be helpful. You’re here now and you can do something.”

She felt compelled to reevaluate her professional life when she returned to Berlin. “It didn’t feel right to just come back and take another corporate job. I felt like I had learned something—how do I [then] translate that into my life back home?”

A cooking group initiative needed help with management and organization and Ricarda stepped in. Open Kitchen evolved from this initiative. “The idea was to break down barriers and [say] as a group of expats: ‘We don’t know exactly what you’re going through but we can empathize.’ Germany is a different society to get into if you don’t speak the language and didn’t grow up here. It can be very difficult.” 

She oversees the Open Kitchen monthly meeting, which is open to anyone new to the city or just looking to connect with others. The group shops, then cooks and eats together. “It’s always the first Saturday of the month and people just show up. It’s totally open. Bring a friend; bring a grandmother. We usually choose one topic or ask one person to [be in charge of the cooking].”

Ricarda applies the lessons she learned in the NGOs in Nepal and India with her work with GSBTB, by managing activities in which social integration and nourishment beyond nutrition are tacitly ingrained. Many of the organization’s food-related activities similarly provide an opportunity for everyone to attend an event and help in any way they can, and for whatever reasons. Food is the means for connection and communication. “Food is an excellent platform for meeting people. It’s a way of telling people something about yourself, how and where you grew up, [and] what’s important to you—whether it’s something your aunt used to cook for you or something you picked up on the path that led you here.”

“The cooking we do here is such a simple idea and in general, so is Give Something Back To Berlin with the music school or language cafes, but it all has a big impact on people’s lives. Some people have found jobs due to the confidence they’ve developed in the kitchen, and others have found relationships, houses, and interesting jobs. One of the key measurements for integration is whether people find these basic things like housing and jobs. We can say yes, they do. There are a number of people who then manage to become part of Berlin life.”

“I’ve always been very interested in how food comes together, where it comes from, what it means to people, and how difficult it can be, not only because of a lack but because so many things go into food. It’s also been a cathartic journey for me. When I look at my life, it makes perfect sense that I’m here now. It’s exactly that aspect of community and bringing people together that is most important to me. Everyone can hold a knife and everyone can contribute. Even if you don’t feel confident, you can be there and talk to people and find out where they come from.” 

For this very reason, although they have participated in Street Food Thursdays with Kavita Meelu and taken on other catering opportunities, Ricarda has limited the larger, commercial activities of Open Kitchen. “We got some interesting offers; we worked with [Markthalle Neun], we worked with Bite Club. It was really fun but it took away from the community aspect too much because we had to work with a budget and a timeline and people were getting stressed. And that’s not how we cook.”

Ricarda uses “we” and always centers the group, the community, and the organization she works for when speaking about the work she does, but she is the lifeline within the various programming she oversees. She is fully immersed in the community and Refugio is the first place she thinks to come to when she has free time, or could use an extra hand while caring for her young child. She lives in accordance with her work, forging lasting relations between newcomers and longtime residents of the city, and tending to the community.

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