Women Who Inspire: Ampy Basa & Casa Basa

Casa Basa is a catering and private chef for hire company that serves a diverse range of clients, from birthdays and private home gatherings to business conferences and events. Founded by Ampy Basa, the head chef extraordinaire who creates delicious meals whilst curating a welcoming and gorgeous atmosphere that puts clients and guests at ease. And we should know! We have recently collaborated with Chef Ampy for our first ever Diversify Lunch and we were satisfied beyond measure. Her professionalism and the quality in her work is unmatched — she went above and beyond to design an ambiance that made us feel at home with the added benefit of delicious food. Around Ampy’s food or kitchen table, no challenge is too big or shameful to discuss. There’s no judgement, just an open space for people to commune, connect and thrive.

Ampy moved to Norway some 13 years ago from the United States with twin toddlers and her Norwegian husband, whilst pregnant with her third child. On arrival in Norway, like many of us, she felt alone and out of her element. As a means to quiet the disorientation she experienced, she began to use her kitchen table as an integrative tool to network, get closer to her Norwegian family, make new friends and get a lay of the land. In no time, her home became a place where diverse people from different walks of life came together to share experiences and find common ground.

What initially began as a means to an end, became a hobby and thereafter, a passion. Ampy had found one of her core callings – fostering community, connecting people and reminding them of home via food. Some months ago, with her mind space open for a new adventure, Ampy decided to extend Casa Basa from a private chef service to a boutique catering company. Ampy’s story is noteworthy because like many of us, moving to Norway was a disorienting experience and as such, she struggled to work with meaning. Knowing and having experienced the difficulty of securing a job as a foreigner, she sought after her own path, by doing what she loved.

At Diversify, we are strong advocates for carving your own path and finding a window where there are no doors. Where employment opportunities (or the lack thereof) are concerened, we wholeheartedly believe that with a little help, you might be able to turn your passion into a money earning resource and eventually, financially sustainable business. We are also unwavering believers in the importance of using cooking and food to bring communities together. What Ampy’s story teaches us is that we cannot allow ourselves to be defeated by structural systems. Yes, it might be unpleasant to have slaved for many years studying a particular degree to enable you secure a job in your desired industry or to embark on your pre-planned salaried professional path. But if you find yourself in such a position, as many of us do when we move to Norway, hang on, do not give up. Instead ask yourself… “what else can I do? If I cannot get a job, can I create my own business or collaborate with someone else?”

Ampy is soft spoken, kind, generous and has a motherly air around her. You certainly feel taken care of in her presence. We also believe that this is what makes her a memorable host  and thoughtful curator– one we will undoubtedly collaborate with for many events and gatherings to come. We hope you are as inspired by Ampy as we are, and that you are encouraged to harness your passions or skillset to bridge cultural gaps, grow communities, build networks, feed souls or start your very own business.

Read more from Ampy below. 

Ampy Basa, Head Chef and Founder of Casa Basa.

We are quite fascinated by Casa Basa and the story behind it. Can you tell us more about what initially inspired you to start cooking and having people over for food in your home?

 When I first moved to Norway from Texas in August of 2006, I was a new mom to twin boys with another baby on the way. It was disorienting and intimidating trying to figure it all out on my own.  I used my kitchen table as a way to meet new friends, get to know my Norwegian family, and create a space where I could be me. I experimented in the kitchen with flavors that I missed from my grandmother’s Filipino kitchen, Tex-mex, barbeque, every variety of Asian food, and fast food from the US.  It was out of need and a voracious appetite that my home became a space where I could eat what I wanted, share my cultural experiences, learn about my new home and build a community in Norway.

What was your experience with securing employment in your field when you moved to Norway? Was Casa Basa always on the plan or was it something you fell into?

I finished my university studies in Accounting and Finance at the University of Houston in 2001.  I worked as a paralegal for several years prior to attending law school. In the legal field, command of the language and articulating yourself clearly is essential to the work. I felt confident in my communications skills and proud of my ability to write, speak and interact with my colleagues. Learning Norwegian has been my toughest and unexpected challenge when moving to Norway. I still struggle in communicating in the local language but now have accepted to let go of perfectionism. Embracing my mistakes and learning from them is a continuos effort.  I needed a job that was flexible while raising my children.  The idea of Casa Basa was not planned but became a way for me to build my network and confidence. Finding my comfort zone in the kitchen, I was fortunate to meet a young Norwegian chef who needed assistance. She trained me to give her an extra hand and I soaked up all the knowledge I could.  Finding a job in Oslo is very much dependent on who you know and can get you in the door. It wasn’t a steady job, but for the time, it was what I needed to feel some independence and work on a skill that I could use at home and professionally. 

Why is connecting with diverse people over food a passion of yours? What have you learnt about diversity and inclusion over the many years of having different people over at your home and dining table?

Oslo is a diverse city with people coming from all corners of the world.  I have enjoyed sharing meals with guests from a viariety of backgrounds and cultures, hearing their stories and learning from their experiences. Food is a wonderful ice breaker. By sharing a meal, people open up – the flavors remind them of memories from childhood or places they’ve visited, people they’ve shared meals with and fond moments worth thinking of again. It is easy to move into stories of moments that are touching but sometimes challenging when moving to a new country. I especially enjoy when locals and newcomers are at a table and we can learn from each other, capture useful tools or further increase our network to ease the transition. From sharing how some have coped to make life just a little bit better to venting and hearing yourself admit the challenges faced. While sharing can be hard, it also embodies a healing component that reminds us that we are not alone. These moment of community and sharing can make a difference in how you move forward.

Why have you decided to further formalize Casa Basa into a business? What is your vision for Casabasa?

Casa Basa is still a work in progress and formalizing it made it real for me. I want to continue working with food and bringing people together.  Building a business demands a different type of energy and momentum that I am finally ready to tackle.  I would like to develop my passion for feeding people into a service that can provide me some financial security and a sense of pride in the work that I share.  The goal of Casa Basa is to continue making it easier for people to entertain their colleagues, friends and family at home by providing quality food and service.  I have plans to expand my offering to include cooking courses that are fun and practical, supper clubs where you can meet others who also enjoy good food and conversation in a welcoming and inclusive environment, and creating a space where others can share recipes, stories and innovation in the way we eat and entertain.

Why is food a unifier and who are your target clients? “

We all need food to survive. We also need community. Through my years of cooking and serving, I have learned that we all need these two things in different ways. By bringing people together and starting the conversation over a kitchen table, we can find joy that may get lost as we stumble through our busy days. We can sit and enjoy the flavors, textures, and feelings of contentment. It is a time to stop the clock and listen to each other, voice our thoughts, feel the simple satisfaction from good food prepared with care and the nourishment it brings.

My target clients are those who understand the thought and efforts necessary to bring a meal to the table. They enjoy healthy and exciting food that isn’t part of just one culinary tradition but a combination of what the seasons and the environment we live in can offer. Most of my customers are excellent cooks themselves.  They want to offer a bountiful meal to their guests but also want them to feel welcome. Engaging my services means they put trust in me to deliver good food so they can focus on those coming to their table. When there is a gathering of people, offering a meal is a part of the package, no matter how simple or extravagant. I get to be a part of the happy moments of life – birthdays, baptisms, confirmations, housewarmings and bachelorette parties. I am also there to help bring a personal touch to team building events, seminars and office meetings. We need the most comfort in difficult times like going away parties, memorials and most recently, divorce parties.  Food can play a role in uniting us in any human condition. I feel grateful to be able to help a host through all of those moments with thoughtfulness and efficiency.

Do you have any upcoming events/gatherings that we should know about?

The Professional Women’s Network of Norway has entrusted me to serve their VIP guests at a reception at Sentralen on Tuesday, 24 September.  The group has arrange a workshop and panel discussion for Oslo Innovation Week 2019 focused on “Designing Work Cultures”.  I am excited to meet and feed some of the leaders in the community that are working towards gender balanced organizations and creating work cultures that are innovative and inclusive.

With the transition from summer to autumn, I look forward to all things Thanksgiving. I will be planning a Thanksgiving Supper Club in November to enjoy this American tradition in Norway. Stay tuned for dates to save your seat by finding us on instagram @casa_basa, Facebook or CasaBasa.no.

I am also active in local groups that promote diversity, support women, and work towards making our community a better place. These include but are not limited to: Voksenenga Nærmiljohage, Oslo Soup, Minds of Oslo, The Professional Women’s Network Norway, Business Women Oslo, The American Women’s Club of Oslo and The Human Aspect.

Do you have an advice for anyone reading this who might be feeling lost, on how they can activate their passion to heal and find a community (or employment) in Norway?

It has been over 13 years since I moved to Oslo. Now, I consider it home. Nonetheless, I still remember the days when I was missing my life, family and friends back home that I couldn’t see the joy in front of me.  It becomes easy to talk about what you leave behind, how handicap you are when you move to a new country and all the challenges you encounter in a new place. Finding a community to share the positive and negative realities of life can make all the difference. It is important to be heard but not drown in the negatives. Over the years, I have learned to be open to new ideas while being true to a set of values that work for me, maintaining a sense of curiosity and believing that people are doing the best that they can with what they know. This perspective has allowed me to get over the tough days and be open to opportunities when they come.  

Only recently have I discovered that success looks different than what I imagined before I moved to Norway.  I could not find it when I compared myself to friends who picked up the language easily, peers with successful careers in the fields they studied, or those back home who followed their own paths and look so content.  I had to redefine what success meant for me in my new home, in my new role and with the values that keep me grounded.  Only then could I work towards a meaningful direction and feel pride in the work I do and the life I live.  

https://www.casabasa.no/food-stories

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