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Conflict Kitchen: Whetting Our Appetites for Understanding

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Conflict Kitchen is a Pittsburgh, PA takeout restaurant that only serves the cuisine of countries in conflict with the United States. Rotating identities every six months to highlight a different country, the Conflict team has brought Iranian, Afghan and now Venezuelan food to everyday Pittsburghers, many for the first time, in an effort to broaden perspectives on some of the most media-blitzed regions of the world.

Founded in 2010 by artists John Peña, Dawn Weleski and Jon Rubin, Conflict is half public art project and half culinary venture. The colorful walk-up shares space and staff with The Waffle Shop, another dual purpose eatery that broadcasts a live-streaming talk show with its customers. Dialogue is always on the menu at both places.

In its first iteration, the founding team worked with the local Iranian community to develop Kubideh Kitchen, offering a fresh-baked barbari wrap with seasoned beef, onion, mint and basil. Kubideh was followed by Afghan takeout Bolani Pazi, serving savory turnovers filled with pumpkin, spinach, lentils or potatoes and leeks. The current iteration, Arepas Kitchen, serves Venezuelan corn cakes filled with either cheese, Reina Pepiada (chicken and avocado salad) or Caraotas (Venezuelan black bean mixture).

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As part of Jon Rubin's “Storefront Project” class at nearby Carnegie Mellon University, Conflict Kitchen takes a multi-disciplinary approach to “culinary mediation." The food wrappers feature interviews with people from the region on topics from history, energy, clothing and poetry to views of the United States government and citizens. An eye-catching new façade featuring the country’s native language is designed for each version.

All is meant to draw in the curious, and perhaps engage them in an international dialogue at one of their Skype dinners. Conflict Kitchen has forged a few digital connections around the dining table with live Skype meals between Tehran, Caracas and Afghanistan, and Pittsburgh. “What we are trying to do is create a safe, engaging and comfortable space for a conversation to happen around these topics, and certainly through food we are able to do that,” says Weleski.

Although there is plenty of overt warfare going on today, there’s no need for “boots on the ground” in order to be considered in conflict; their successfully funded Kickstarter video ends with the narrator trailing off a list of countries that could use some more diverse representation in the United States. The next Kitchen visitors may be discussing embargoes over a Cuban medianoche, or freedom of speech over a tray of North Korean-style gimbap.

Follow Erin on Twitter: @ErinPie

Image: Conflict Kitchen

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