Minneapolis chefs and entrepreneurs Sameh Wadi and Enrique Garcia Salazar are used to racking up recognition in culinary circles.
Recently, they also got props from more unlikely quarters: immigration attorneys. The American Immigration Lawyers Association’s chapter for Minnesota and the Dakotas gave each its annual Immigrants of Distinction Award.
“Both have great stories,” said Elizabeth Streefland, who has coordinated the awards since their launch in 2007. “Both have made Minnesota stand out nationally with their work.”
Over the years, the chapter often had a hard time choosing winners among the 10 to 25 nominations it receives. It was a question of “comparing apples to oranges,” says Streefland: “How do you decide between a civil rights activist and a pediatrician?”
So last year, organizers decided to debut an annual theme. In the 2014 Immigrants in the Arts edition, outgoing Guthrie Theater Director Joe Dowling and Oscar-nominated actor Barkhad Abdi were among the winners. The association commissions lengthy video interviews with the recipients, a gift for the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota.
This year, it was on to the culinary arts. In 1999, Salazar, an immigrant from Mexico, started La Loma Tamales with wife Noelia Urzua out of Mercado Central in Minneapolis. Today, the business has grown to include six restaurants, a wholesale business and a catering operation.
Wadi, a Palestinian-American, opened Saffron restaurant in Minneapolis in 2007. A semifinalist for the coveted James Beard Award, he followed up with World Street Kitchen. Wadi says his latest recognition holds a special place: “There are many hardworking immigrants that enrich the fabric of this country. I’m honored to represent them.”