A War Fought With Knives and Forks
Traditional recipes have emerged as both a new form of rebellion and a way for the displaced to stay connected to their heritage and home.
As the eyes of the world remain on the war in Ukraine, Yevhen Kloptenko, a celebrity chef from Kviv has captured headlines. In interviews with Fox News and NPR. Kloptenko’s courageous and defiant tone is similar to that of President Volodymr Zelenskyy, although his weapon of choice is quite different — Borsht.
Yes, Borsht. An Eastern European staple, Borsht is a hearty stew made from beets. Can soup stop the attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and senseless Russian aggression? Maybe not, but Kloptenko is insistent it has a place in the fight.
A chef in his early 30’s, Kloptenko was making a case for the importance of traditional recipes and techniques well before his country was invaded. These days his focus has shifted to feeding the Ukrainian army, and guiding citizens on how to cook with the staples found in their bomb shelters. And Borsht is one of his calls-to-action.
In the beginning of March, Kloptenko used social media to make a plea to the international community: cook our food. He argues cooking traditional Ukrainian dishes is a means to show cultural support, and help the world connect with and understand Ukraine and its people outside of the context of war. Kloptenko has added English versions of some of the dishes he feels most embody the country’s cuisine to his website — Borscht included.
#CookForUkraine, launched by Ukrainian chef and food writer Olia Hercules, Russian cookbook author Dr. Alissa Timoskina, and Polish “storyteller cook” Zuza Zak, echoes Kloptenko’s call to cook.
Quoted in inews.co.uk, Hercules framed their goal simply, “I don’t want people to get stuck in the headlines and the bombs and to lose sight of the human beings behind this story.”
Born from a hashtag, the fundraiser has raised close to $200,000 for UNICEF UK. The effort allows individuals to give directly, and also partners with restaurants to enable customers to donate on their bill. Participants are encouraged to host bake sales or supper clubs to raise money, and use the hashtag #CookForUkraine to share photos and recipes on social media.
Restaurants, bars, and cafes across the world are similarly raising money for Ukraine’s refugees and resistance and a growing number of chefs have “packed their knives” and headed for the Ukrainian-Polish border to help feed the displaced. Chef José Andrés and his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen (WCK) are among them.
Andrés, who was awarded the Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 2018, and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, founded WCK in January 2010 as a response to the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Since then, the nonprofit has solidified its reputation as a “first responder” when it comes to disaster relief — delivering hot meals in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Zambia, Peru, Uganda, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas, Cambodia, across the U.S, and now in Ukraine.
Known for its ability to be agile, WCK has perfected the ability to merge local infrastructure with international resources to empower communities in need of aid. The team was on the ground within hours of the Russian invasion on February 25th, setting up hundreds of locations in 12 Ukrainian cities, as well as sites along the borders of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia. They have served over 1 million meals and counting.
Andrés summarized their efforts perfectly in a recent interview with the Washington Post “…there are many ways to fight. Some people fight making sure people are fed,’ and those are our people, and we are going to be supporting them.”
While time, resources and, of course, danger won’t allow most to follow Chef Andrés into battle, we can all make Borscht. Let’s.
Make Borscht for yourself. Make Borscht for your friends. Make Borscht for your neighbors. Take a picture of your Borscht and add it to social media. Use the hashtag. Donate to those supporting the resistance on the ground. Cook for Ukraine.
Danilo Diazgranados is an independent investor in the global food and wine, financial services, real estate, and the hospitality sectors.