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Food for the soul — Acclaimed Cleveland chef dishes out relief in Ukraine

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Posted at 4:35 PM, Jan 27, 2023

CLEVELAND — Brandon Chrostowski, the well-known and highly-acclaimed chef and restauranteur behind Edwin’s Leadership and Restaurant Institute is in Ukraine for the next week. He is helping by providing aid, supplies and support to the war-torn country’s culinary community and displaced residents.

Chrostowski passed through Poland and into Ukraine earlier this week with more than 80 pounds of supplies and produce, including a 50-pound bag of seeds from Chef’s Garden in Huron. The first leg of his trip included meeting up with Chef Levgen Klopotenko, one of Ukraine’s most famous and respected chefs, who has continued to provide hot, delicious meals to displaced Ukrainians despite the oftentimes challenging cooking environments.

“The goal of this trip also is to meet with chefs that are really behind the scenes making a difference in Ukraine. Chef Levgen Klopotenko is one of them,” said Chrostowski. “Sometimes the power goes out or there is no gas so they have wood fire stoves. There are beautiful people all behind this belief that Ukraine is its own country.”

This isn’t Chrostowski’s first trip to eastern Europe. In March, just a few weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chrostowski visited neighboring Poland to help Ukrainian refugees.

“I’m just an emotional wreck, you know what I mean? I come off tough and gruff but my point is my heart bleeds like anybody else. Seeing this area in March, when I was in Poland, it just felt like it was time to go back,” Chrostowski said. “I want to meet, support, high-five, whatever it is — chefs that are making a difference in this country right now because there are many of them and they go unnoticed. They are truly making a difference. That’s a big part of humanitarianism or food. It’s bigger than food.”

Chrostowski, whose birthday is Sunday, told News 5 on Friday that he wanted to take a trip for his birthday — and for that trip to mean something. Although he is only a couple of days into his journey, the experience, he said, has been professionally and personally rewarding.

“What I’ve seen today and yesterday, it’s nourishment for people who have nothing or are fighting on the front lines,” said Chrostowski. “There needs to be this nourishment for the soul to keep on fighting. There are so many ways this intertwines. It’s beautiful, sad, all of these things that happen. I just couldn’t be more proud to stand next to this woman today who was peeling potatoes for kids.”

The trip has also provided a steady dose of perspective. On Wednesday, the semifinalists for the prestigious and coveted James Beard Award, one of the top culinary honors, were announced. Chrostowski learned of his nomination for outstanding restauranteur while he was on a train in Ukraine.

“As grateful as it is, and I am, that award is just so small right now in comparison to what’s going on in this country,” said Chrostowski. “I learned long ago from great chefs that you provide so much more than food. It’s bigger than vitamins or minerals. It’s that too — but so much more.”