Great initiatives are often born out of devastating tragedies, and Lebanon is one of the countries that has been suffering political unrest and economic instability for the past few years. The Great Oven was born in 2018 as a much-needed social movement that builds giant, decorated ovens, and sends them to places in need, mainly refugee camps, cities in crisis, and war-torn communities.
Spearheaded by James Gomez Thompson, creative partner, author and food writer, and BBC Broadcaster Nigel Slater OBE, the project began as a rehabilitative cooking, music, and art program for former child fighters. The oven was later sent to a refugee camp in Bekaa Valley. Following the massive explosion that took place in the Lebanese capital in August, the team realized that there’s an immense need for them to be present in Beirut.
Since its launch in 2018, The Great Oven has self-funded its operations. Now, with the full support and partnership of the Lebanese Food Bank, a single oven is capable of producing over 1,000 hot meals per day, with the help of food donors, farmers, and local cooks.
Just like most venues in the city, even clubs and music venues were destroyed by the blast. As a result, the dancefloors in The Ballroom Blitz were converted to community kitchens and the ovens were decorated on the terrace. That being said, the very first oven was decorated by internationally renowned American artist, Shrine, who also contributed as a mentor during the rehabilitative program in Tripoli.
And the best part is that The Great Oven is sustainable, so communities can continue to benefit from it even after the team’s departure.
In the future, they plan on expanding to Mexico City, Mumbai, and Johannesburg.