A top Ukrainian chef is launching a “cultural embassy” for his home country in Britain to showcase his cuisine, design, art and drink in the form of a new restaurant staffed entirely by refugees.
Yurii Kovryzhenko, a ‘culinary ambassador’ for Ukraine, and his partner, Olga Tsybytovska, have been in London since February, when they were stranded on a 10-day trip from Kyiv for an event at the Ukrainian Embassy. Ukraine after the invasion of Russia. They ended up staying in an embassy apartment in Holland Park for two months.
Since then they have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for Ukraine through events with chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Jason Atherton and Tom Kitchin.
Now they plan to open their own restaurant, Mriya (meaning dream), in London, where, in addition to serving contemporary Ukrainian cuisine, they hope to act as an exhibition space for art and culture. Ukrainians.
Kovryzhenko, 39, who before the war had several TV and radio shows in Ukraine, where he is a celebrity chef and a leading figure in the slow food movement, said their role was one of “culinary diplomacy”. “Food is the greatest power in the world. It can be the weapons and it can be the weapon,” he added.
The name of the restaurant, near Earl’s Court, was inspired by the collective dreams of ending the war and the personal dreams of Ukrainians. It is also the name of the largest plane in the world, manufactured in Ukraine, which was destroyed at Antonov airport near Kyiv in the first weeks of the war.
In addition to classic dishes like borscht, they will serve golubtsi (cabbage rolls) made with zucchini flowers, kabachkovi oladky (zucchini pancakes) served with stracciatella or cream cheese instead of traditional sour cream . They are also planning to create a Ukrainian version of the Sunday roast using grilled meat.
The bar will serve Ukrainian wine and infused vodkas, and offer food and vodka pairings. The building also has a dedicated fermentation room. Ukrainian designers are coming this week to install clay walls and natural materials, and they plan to use Ukrainian furniture.
“We want this space to be like a cultural embassy of Ukraine in the UK,” said Tsybytovska, 33, who previously worked in culinary tourism. “To be like a representative of our country here. We want to fill it with Ukrainian energy, including people and art and food, taste, everything.
They had heard from others in the hospitality industry that they might struggle to find staff after Brexit. But since advertising the chefs, servers, bartenders and porters on social media, they have received hundreds of applications from Ukrainian refugees.
Many applicants were previously in highly skilled jobs which they cannot do in the UK as their qualifications are not transferable.
“Some stories I read were horrible,” Kovryzhenko said. “People who were teachers, doctors, have a doctorate, now they are looking for work as porters in a kitchen.”
For many, knowledge of English is a problem, he added, and the time it takes for refugees to obtain their official documents from the British government. He called for more restaurants and hotels to hire Ukrainian refugees.
Kovryzhenko previously worked in Georgia, France, Korea and Lviv, where he ran the upscale restaurant Vintage Noveau. “I will try to mix the best of different cultures and use Ukrainian heritage as a base,” he said.
At first, when war broke out, they felt guilty for being safe in London while their friends were hiding in shelters and stuck in long traffic jams from Ukraine, they said. But they soon realized they could be more effective coming from the UK.
“We realized that we could be very helpful at fundraising events, in promoting our culture, in fundraising,” Tsybytovska said. “I know it would be a great tragedy for my family [in Ukraine] if I decided to come back. The only thing that gives them hope and strength is knowing that I am safe.
If the project is successful, they plan to open more restaurants and social spaces in the UK involving Ukrainians, they said.
In the landscape of war, food is a way to talk about and celebrate their culture, Tsybytovska said, as well as introduce it to Britons. “Ukraine is at the center of Europe. It has a long and very rich history, but no one here knows what Ukrainian cuisine is,” she said.
“For us, food is a tool to draw attention to Ukraine and talk about our culture. It is also an instrument to connect us to the house.