If chef Graham Dodds were to define the mission of his kitchen, good food is part of the recipe. So are the people in his kitchen, which ideally looks like a "microcosm to represent the world," he explains. Over the years, Dodds has hired people from Africa, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico and Syria and the Middle East.
"It created this amazing environment," he says, "where everybody was working with each other."
Dodds, now the culinary director at the Statler in Dallas, is one of the advisers of Dallas' first Human Rights Day DFW on Dec. 10, where participating restaurants will donate money to the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas.
Seventy years ago, the U,N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to protect the varied races, religions, political opinions and more across the globe. In North Texas, HRI has provided legal support since 2000 to refugees and other people who have suffered human rights abuses, but the group is now trying to make a more delicious splash.
On Dec. 10, anyone who dines at one of the participating restaurants or breweries in Dallas will see a portion of the money they spend donated to HRI of North Texas. The establishments giving 5 percent of their proceeds on Dec. 10 include: Americano, all three locations of Asian Mint, CBD Provisions, Chop House Burger in Dallas, all three locations of Cultivar Coffee, El Bolero, Mirador, Nora, Oddfellows, Pakpao on Oak Lawn Avenue, The Royale in Plano, Zaguan, Zio Cecio, and the restaurants Dodds oversees at the Statler (Bourbon & Banter and Overeasy).
Of note, Four Corners Brewery has agreed to donate 20 percent of the beer it sells on Dec. 10.
Other participating restaurants are donating $250. See a full list of restaurants donating both percentages and fixed fees here.
"I think we're really well known in the human rights space," says HRI executive director Bill Holston. But the aim of Human Rights Day DFW is to reach people outside of the human-rights community. "If you just concentrate on telling our story to people who have an existing interest in human rights, you're really limiting yourself. Getting into restaurants and breweries and talking about human rights — those are groups of people who aren't ordinarily going to hear anything about us," he says.
Put another way, HRI is getting into the community "through their stomachs," says Sanjeeb Samanta, the team leader and volunteer for Human Rights Day DFW. He also works at Texas Instruments full time.
If the event is successful, Samanta hopes to expand it so that diners in Dallas recognize Human Rights Day DFW every year — in the same way they might anticipate the return of an unaffiliated popular event, DFW Restaurant Week.
Dodds has experienced the positive effects of hiring refugees. He tells the story of a Syrian refugee who was hired to make pasta at now-shuttered restaurant Hibiscus. He had never made rolled pasta before, but Dodds remarked that "he was better at it than we were" after just a few weeks.
"It was really cool to see that," he says. "It just kind of gave me hope."
In 2017, significantly fewer refugees settled in Texas than they did in 2016, according to Pew Research. Restaurateurs are experiencing a labor shortage in D-FW, which means fewer people who could potentially work in local restaurants. "Dismally, these days, we're not getting new refugees in," Dodds says. "And you're seeing the impact of it. I could certainly use them these days."
For Samanta, who was born in Malaysia, went to boarding school in India and moved to the United States in 1990, his goal with Human Rights Day DFW is twofold: to raise money and to raise awareness for an organization he says is "actually doing something" to help immigrant survivors of abuse.
"If different people are talking about human rights," Samanta says, "that's a good thing."
If you want to participate
Visit one of the participating restaurants on Sunday, Dec. 10, and you'll be contributing to the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas' cause.