One World Cafe puts unity on the menu

5 May 2004

SASKATOON, Canada — When, as a child, Diana Gray watched her parents cook in the South American nation of Guyana, she acquired skills that came in useful many years later.

At the One World Cafe, which she opened here in 2000, Mrs. Gray includes dishes from Guyana in her wide-ranging menu.

The dry grasslands of Western Canada are about 7,000 kilometers from the tropical rain forests of Guyana and sometimes colder by 80 degrees centigrade. It is hard to imagine more different environments -- or more different diets.

The Indian-style cuisine typical of Guyana is nothing like the traditional meat and potatoes of the Canadian prairies, but customers in Saskatoon have responded warmly to it and to the other international dishes provided by the One World Cafe.

In fact, says Mrs. Gray, it seems that the more exotic the dish, the faster it sells.

Diana Gray has a dual mission for her cafe. A top priority is to offer fresh, high-quality dishes from around the world, a kind of global cuisine Diana has devised in collaboration with her co-workers.

Another is to introduce her clientele to Baha'u'llah's teaching of "unity in diversity."

"I became a Baha'i back in Guyana at an international youth conference in 1989," Mrs. Gray said.

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Customer Rick Fedorchuk with staff member Marina Harbord.

"I was impressed with the Baha'is I met because they knew so much about religion. I was a Hindu but they knew more about my religion than I did."

One of the Baha'is she met was her future husband, Doug Gray, a Canadian who was in Guyana working on a Baha'i project.

After they married in 1991, Mr. and Mrs. Gray made their home in Canada.

Mrs. Gray says that the global fusion menu of the One World Cafe has become an effective way for people of different backgrounds to appreciate each other's cultures.

On any given day, One World's feature menu may include spicy rotis from Guyana, chicken enchiladas from Chile, Thai fried vegetables, North African cauliflower, Arab falafel and hummus, nicoise salad from France, vegetable masala from India, Russian borscht, Greek donair, and fusili alla salsa di Pomodoro from Italy. And every once in a while, customers can order a Canadian mainstay -- hamburgers.

"My customers love international foods," Mrs. Gray says.

"If they don't reserve the daily feature in advance, it sells out before they get here.

"Even little appetizers, like Japanese sushi, Indian samosas or pakora, or Vietnamese salad rolls, are gone before I can wrap and put them in the cooler. Whatever the price, they just buy it."

The One World Cafe is an unpretentious, 60-seat cafeteria primarily for the 200 workers in the National Hydrology Research Institute building at Innovation Place, Saskatoon's science research park.

"I also get a lot of customers by word-of-mouth. People who work in the building invite people for lunch, including a lot of out-of-towners."

Making money is not Diana's major objective for the cafe and catering business. Her main income comes from her commercial property maintenance and cleaning service.

She says she wanted to open the cafe to give the opportunity to people to inquire about the Baha'i Faith, though makes it clear that "Baha'is are not allowed to push their faith on anyone."

"The cafe provides a way to meet people and talk about Baha'u'llah if people are interested. Everyone knows we are Baha'is and I would say about 50 percent of customers ask questions."

Questions are also prompted by menu cards, which include excerpts from Baha'u'llah's writings.

"People are curious about my background and religion and I am not afraid to tell them," Mrs. Gray says with a laugh.

"My staff has included Persians, a Russian -- people from different cultures -- which also arouses curiosity," she says.

"To me, everyone belongs to the same race, the human race."

Report by Paul Hanley.