The Arts Council’s Rachel Strutt On the Language of Food

NibbleRachel Strutt (left) has helped develop the Somerville Arts Council's Nibble program. Photos by Angela Cook.

Rachel Strutt, program director at the Somerville Arts Council, has always been interested in helping to amplify marginalized voices.

She got her master’s degree in medieval art history at Tufts, studying the “people on the margins.” She continued with her passion of promoting people’s stories as a journalist, and eventually carried that drive to the arts council, where she’s channeled her efforts through food.

Nibble, the council’s culinary arm that supports diversity and entrepreneurship in Union Square, has grown organically, according to Strutt. Nibble began with tours of the square’s international markets and developed into an umbrella organization that runs a culinary entrepreneurship program, cooking classes, and pop-up restaurants—all of which focus on the myriad immigrant communities that live in Union Square.

The current group of Nibble entrepreneurs hails from countries including Bolivia, Venezuela, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh.

Rachel StruttIn Strutt’s eyes, food is a way for the entrepreneurs and cooking class teachers to communicate and tell stories. One of Nibble’s cooking instructors doesn’t speak English, Strutt explains, “But it doesn’t matter—she’s so charismatic, and food is its own language … It’s like this amazing social experiment where people who started off strangers don’t want to go home.”

Nibble will open a permanent kitchen in Bow Market this year, fulfilling one of Strutt’s long-term goals for the program. The roughly 400-square-foot space will hold a rotating restaurant, where different entrepreneurs will get to try out their menus and temporarily run a restaurant.

“Our dream has always been to not be nomadic and have a location where we can do our cooking classes, continue with our entrepreneurship training, but also do regular retail vending to the public in a location that has good foot traffic,” Strutt says.

Strutt says Bow Market felt like a good match for Nibble due to its central location and its startup-friendly setup. She could envision Nibble entrepreneurs graduating from the program and opening their own restaurants in the complex or elsewhere in Union Square, she says.

“What we hope is that if people can launch a successful menu a couple days a week, and if they really build up a devoted clientele, then the next step would be to open their own restaurant, and I think that could potentially be Bow Market, but the goal is definitely to land those businesses in Somerville,” she says.

Immigrants have a “track record of being entrepreneurs” when they come to the United States, Strutt explains, and she hopes that Nibble can help make culinary entrepreneurship accessible to immigrants and “help people feel pride in their talents.”

“In the current political climate, ‘immigrant’ has a bad name, and I think in Somerville, led by the mayor, I think we take pride in our immigrants,” Strutt says. “I just have met the most beautiful people through this program.”

This story originally appeared in the Do Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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