Immigrant Food, downtown D.C.’s cause-casual concept, has a mission of celebrating America’s story of immigrant DNA and heritage through cuisine. It’s a restaurant that celebrates the successes of past immigrants and positively impacts today’s immigrants via food and support to various initiatives by uniting at the table.
It’s only fitting to see the team being led by immigrants or daughters of immigrants themselves: Téa Ivanovic and Mileyda (Mile) Montezuma joined the company as the communications director and the head of kitchen, respectively. They each bring their life experiences to the table to blend together a story of food, immigration, women and cross-cultural influences. Here are their stories.
Mile Montezuma, Head of Kitchen
Mile Montezuma was born in Barquisimeto, Venezuela and has been working with award-winning chef Enrique Limardo for over five years now, after finishing culinary school. She was an easy choice to head up the kitchen at Immigrant Food when Limardo became a partner in the project.
“As an immigrant myself, celebrating the immigrants in America is something I’m extremely passionate about,” Montezuma says. “Cuisine is a great way to showcase similarities and connections between different cultures. We build a spider web of the connections between ingredients and how they are used across various immigrant communities in the native cuisine. Many times, this is an intricate web that truly shows how close people and foods are.”
And though inspirations from around the world abound in the restaurant’s aesthetic and flavor, the menu is intentionally filled with ingredients many people might recognize but done in ways that are a mashup of cultures. One dish honors Vice President Kamala Harris’ Jamaican and Indian background with the Madam VP’s Heritage Bowl, with coconut-milk curried chicken stew, chickpeas, potatoes, pineapples, plantains and more.
Another salutes the large immigrant groups from Mexico, India and Greece — the Mumbai Mariachi fuses together delicious spice-rubbed steak with mango chutney and feta cheese. Columbia Road, named after the main road in Adams Morgan, melds together Ethiopia’s delicious, berbere-spiced small lentils with vegetables that include loroco flowers from El Salvador to represent the two largest immigrant communities in the District. The food in Montezuma’s immigrant story is one of hard work and the promise of what comes from it.
“America has always been a place where [if] you come and work hard, you’re going to move forward. It’s going to be recognized, and at Immigrant Food I can work hard and support the dream of other immigrants and other women.”
Téa Ivanovic, Director of Communications + Outreach
Ivanovic refers to herself as “immigrant squared.” She was born in Belgium to parents from the former Yugoslavia and recruited to the United States by Virginia Tech’s Division 1 varsity tennis team. She came to Immigrant Food from a professional career that included creating and implementing strategic communications for international policy and politics at a D.C. think tank, and global financial matters at a financial public and media relations firm.
“What drew me to Immigrant Food is the advocacy and impact at the grassroots level,” she says. “Many companies have CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives that are done with the profits, but at Immigrant Food, that is the core of our business.”
Indeed, the organizations and initiatives that Immigrant Food supports on a regular basis are all local.
She adds, “Advocacy at Immigrant Food is not an afterthought. Alongside the food menu, we provide an engagement menu that shows direct ways in which customers can make a difference in the lives of immigrants.”
This changing menu includes places to donate, ways to participate in advocacy initiatives and virtual events, and even virtual volunteering opportunities. Prior to Covid-related closures, Immigrant Food also provides their space without cost to host trainings, seminars or other events for local organizations.
“Many times, finding a downtown space is hard and expensive, but given the large number of immigrant workers downtown, it’s a lot easier when there is a spot available for these organizations to use,” Ivanovic says.
Keep up with Ivanovic and Montezuma’s work at www.immigrantfood.com and @immigrantfood on Instagram. Immigrant Food is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
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