The Catholic comedian Jim Gaffigan once poked sardonic fun at the idea of buying fine china as a gift, “because you never know when the pope’s going to swing by and want to eat a microwaved hot dog off a $200 plate”.
There are no $200 plates at the Two Wolves community cantina in Chippendale, and nothing so bland as a microwaved hotdog either to detract from its earthy, hipsterish fare.
But should Pope Francis drop in, there’s one dish he’d recognise immediately: the empanadas his mother used to make – soft, meat-filled pastry pockets with a fresh and punchy salsa, cooked to Maria Bergoglio’s recipe.
The newest outgrowth of the Cardoner Project, the whole place teems with Jesuit swagger, reflecting the communities throughout Asia, and as far away as Mexico, where it has been sending high school graduates for service and immersion experiences since 2010.
Every dish is bona fide. Sister Hien’s Bun Thit Nuong is Sister Hien’s Bun Thit Nuong: a popular Vietnamese cold rice vermicelli noodle dish topped with meat, made by a religious at a Holy Cross-run orphanage in central Vietnam. (Its namesake is currently studying medicine to be the children’s physician).
A veritable army of young volunteers – around 130 – will keep the place running, with the additional goal of eventually becoming a training ground for the long-term unemployed.
Cardoner founder Fr David Braithwaite SJ didn’t know anything about starting an eatery when the idea for the Two Wolves was first mooted.
It might have been smaller and less impressive had God not sent a bevy of talented and influential professionals his way, including Sydney bar baron Fraser Short, food entrepreneur Ben Sweeten, designer Michael Delany and former Premier Nick Greiner, who helped out with governance.
Once the site of a bank, the upstairs of the venue houses a chapel and accommodation for 15 graduates of Riverview College, who form the backbone of the volunteer staff while also receiving formation, in spirituality and leadership.
“I do love seeing young people’s ideas coming to fruition,” Fr David said of the project, speaking to The Catholic Weekly at a showcase night last week.
“I like the idea of incubating ideas and having an environment for that creativity. To that extent its entrepreneurial and encouraging young people to be so, which is a virtuous thing; it’s about agency and being able to do something with your life and helping others. That’s what social enterprise is all about.”
Project co-ordinator and Jesuit seminarian Ramesh Richards said the project, embedded in a university precinct near Notre Dame University and the University of Sydney, is also a chance to interface with young people.
“On an everyday basis the intention is to bring people together, to bring Church together,” Ramesh said, “to expose them to the realities of what happens in Australia and around the world”.
“I walk around during lunchtime (every Friday) and chat with people. They see my collar and so they know, and they sometimes tell me that they ‘don’t want to have that kind of conversation’. I tell them, ‘I’m not here to have that conversation. All I want to do is serve you your food’. But after some time they raise the issue. I don’t push it but they want to raise it.
“We are exposing them to a different kind of Church. In Australia we keep hearing the same rhetoric about Church; about same-sex marriage (and so on). But when they go to other side of the world they see how the Church is doing good in a different way and what the priorities are in the Church, around the world and not just Australia.”
Profits from the cantina will go to Jesuit Refugee Services while the project will continue to raise funds for its partner communities in other, very contemporary ways.
Fr David and Ramesh are hoping to raise around $30,000 through crowd-sourcing – making an online pitch for donor investment – so that one of its communities can become self-sufficient through their own social enterprise; no longer requiring the project’s help.
“They’ll be in a situation soon where they (with the additional funds) can double capacity and they won’t need us. That is the dream.”
The Two Wolves community cantina is located at 202 Broadway, Chippendale.