After fleeing from Syria, chef Wareef Hameedo starts a new life in Gaza with a prosperous Syrian restaurant and upcoming TV show. Joel Flynn reports.
It's a safe bet that no celebrity chef has a story like Wareef Hammeedo's. Three years ago the 34-year-old was running a small restaurant in the Syrian city of Aleppo. That was before it was heavily bombed in the country's civil war. But after fleeing first to Turkey and then Egypt - he fled to Gaza where he faced an unknown future. SOUNDBITE: Syrian Chef in Gaza, Wareef Hameedo, saying (Arabic): "When things were tough in Egypt, we Syrians had two choices - board the death boats to Europe, with an uncertain future, or go to Gaza, as some of our Palestinian friends advised us." Wareef joined the 1.8 million Gazans trying to make a living amid an economy on the brink of collapse, But instead of using his degree in mechanical engineering to find work, he chose to pursue his dreams - and make it as a chef. As Gaza itself was consumed by war between Israel and Hamas, slowly but surely he made those dreams come true. Now he's one of the most famous chefs in the Arabic world - famed for his Syrian food that people come from all over to eat. SOUNDBITE: Syrian Chef in Gaza, Wareef Hameedo, saying (Arabic): "The love our Kibbeh, from Aleppo, which I have on the menu. They also like the barbecue I make in the restaurant." As word of mouth spread about Wareef's food, a local television station asked him to make a cookery show. Starting next week a 30-programme series will be broadcast during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. SOUNDBITE: Syrian Chef in Gaza, Wareef Hameedo, saying (Arabic): "We've finished filming and sound editing. We shot for more than 40 days for the TV show, which will be called "Chef Wareef" and shown on Palestinian TV." It's part of a remarkable journey for the talented chef - but he still faces an unknown future. His passport has expired so he can't see his family in Turkey. He's still planning for the best - hoping to open another restaurant in southern Gaza, and possibly, with some luck, eventually back in Syria itself.