Food can make or break a wedding. Even after the most elegant, tear-jerking ceremony, guests will surely comment to another person in their party about whether the food was up to snuff at the reception, then compare it to food at another wedding—their own, someone else’s or a hypothetical one they’ve romanticized. Thing is, catering in general is difficult to decide on—and those in the romantics camp have no idea what’s coming amid all the other small details of planning a wedding or event. And inevitably, you will be judged. Fortunately, we Northern Utahns have an armory of delicious food options available via International Rescue Committee Salt Lake City’s (IRC SLC) Spice Kitchen Incubator (SKI)—which is where my spouse and I found Zaater & Zayton.
When my partner and I were getting married, we knew that we wanted a catering option that served transcendent food—we didn’t want to resign ourselves to a menu tantamount to an American grade-school cafeteria. My now-spouse had suspected that looking through SKI would be fruitful. Given our experience with Middle Eastern cuisine as toothsome, balanced between light and satisfying, and diverse with respect to diets such as gluten-free and vegan, Zaater & Zayton seemed a perfect fit.
“Zaater & Zayton is proud to use the fresh ingredients in their dishes and let the customer get a taste before the catering event.”
Zaater & Zayton sisters/owners/chefs Sahad Al Abadi and Mayyadah Saihood came to the U.S. from Iraq in 2011. After feeling that there was a shortage of Middle Eastern food in Utah, they began at the Farmers’ Market in 2013. Al Abadi and Saihood connected with SKI and were in the first graduating class of their program in 2015. Their food is “Arabic and Middle Eastern cuisine with original flavors, offering a modern and elegant way to reflect the charm of the Middle East,” they say. “Zaater & Zayton is proud to use the fresh ingredients in their dishes and let the customer get a taste before the catering event.”
Zaater & Zayton adapts their catering to match customers’ tastes, and cite customer favorites as their grilled meats and staples like falafel. Our wedding menu included mostly half servings of the following: beef and chicken biryani with yogurt dip, eggplant tapsee with tomato sauce served with couscous, rice kubbah, beef and cheese fatayer, beef and cheese borek with red sauce, falafel balls with tahini sauce, and fattoush and malfouf salads. My favorite was the fatayer, but each dish was exquisite.
A central reason for our decision to explore and ultimately choose a Spice Kitchen Incubator caterer was because their program stewards and hosts refugees seeking to create careers out of food in Utah. “Supporting local refugee and new American business owners and neighbors by purchasing from their businesses supports our local community and keeps dollars local while giving us the opportunity to explore other cultures and get to know our neighbors through food,” says Kate Idzorek, Spice Kitchen Incubator’s Program Manager. “This principle is at the base of SKI’s mission, and we invite each and every one of you to join us!”
“SKI programming also has a specific emphasis on serving female entrepreneurs, ensuring they receive the additional support and services necessary to make their food business dreams a reality.”
SKI was born out of a partnership between IRC SLC and Salt Lake County in 2013 “to support refugees and other new Americans to leverage their natural culinary talent and start food businesses in the U.S. that ultimately create long-term economic well-being for themselves and their families,” Idzorek says. Over 90 percent of participants are New Americans, and 68 percent of those participants are refugees, though anyone from “low-to-moderate income” backgrounds may apply. “SKI programming also has a specific emphasis on serving female entrepreneurs, ensuring they receive the additional support and services necessary to make their food business dreams a reality,” says Idzorek.
The program provides linguistically accessible, hands-on training, financial coaching, technical services, ESL training, childcare access and access to alternate methods of training such as in-home tutors. SKI also helps nascent restauranteurs create “a written business plan and support to navigate the licensing and permitting process,” says Idzorek. “SKI then provides access to market opportunities and hands-on training opportunities as well as access to commercial kitchen space offered at a below-market rate for entrepreneurs to prepare their products for market.”
Most participants graduate from the program at the five-year mark, at which point they maintain their own business while mentoring and training newcomers. After graduation, Al Abadi and Saihood “began to work hard and diligently,” they say. “Spice Kitchen was a big support for us, and their presence has been a major factor in the growth of our project. They helped is with the ways of marketing, cultivating our business and bringing attention to Zaater & Zayton.”
“Supporting local refugee and new American business owners and neighbors by purchasing from their businesses supports our local community.”
While Idzorek heralds many ways for us to eat the food of SKI chefs, she says, “The best place to start is at our website, spicekitchenincubator.org, where you can find links to Spice To Go, our weekly hot-meal pick-up service offered every Thursday (order by Tuesday at noon to guarantee your meal), catering and food-truck events as well as access to each of our entrepreneurs’ Facebook and Instagram pages to see where they are selling next.”
I received various compliments on the food after our wedding. You need to eat Zaater & Zayton—their catering or otherwise. And if you need to change it up, SKI hosts a panoply of food craftspeople who enrich our community, our palates, our souls. You, too, can support immigrants through delicious food.
You can find Zaater & Zayton at zaaterandzayton.com and @ZaaterandZayton on both Instagram and Facebook. Spice Kitchen Incubator is presently operating out of Square Kitchen until the end of the year, when they plan to have completed a new space.