Ukrainian chef to launch restaurant in London with refugees

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(CNN) — Considered a “culinary ambassador” of Ukraine, celebrity chef Yurii Kovryzhenko has spent years championing his native country’s national cuisine around the world.

Now Kovryzhenko, who previously ran restaurants in South Korea and Georgia, as well as Ukraine, is preparing to open a neo-bistro style establishment in London that will be staffed by Ukrainian refugees.

He and his partner Olga Tsybytovska will launch Mriya in London’s upscale Chelsea area later this month. But to say that this latest venture was born out of difficult circumstances is an understatement.

The couple were visiting the British capital from Kyiv for an event at the Ukrainian Embassy when Russia invaded their homeland in February. They’ve been in town ever since.

“When I closed the door to my apartment, I thought I would be back in 10 days,” Tsybytovska, who previously worked in restaurant marketing, told CNN Travel. “But life is so unpredictable.”

Defend Ukrainian cuisine

Mriya will serve Ukraine’s national dish, borscht, a beet-based soup, which was recently added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

Elena Bazu and Dmitry Novikov

After spending months teaming up with famous British chefs including Richard Corrigan and Jason Atherton to raise money for those affected by war, they decided to launch Mriya.

The restaurant will offer classic Ukrainian dishes such as borscht (or borscht) with a modern twist, as well as specialties such as fermented watermelon and golubtsi (cabbage rolls) made with zucchini flowers.

“I want people who come here to feel like me when I’m in a [food] market in other countries,” says Kovryzhenko, a leading figure in the slow food movement.

“I want them to discover something new, a new taste. I want them to fall in love with Ukrainian cuisine.”

Kovryzhenko uses local produce rather than importing food from Ukraine to ensure there are familiar tastes for diners.

When Mriya opens, it will serve Ukrainian food made from British produce with a “touch” of influences it has picked up in other countries.

According to Kovryzhenko, Ukrainian cuisine shares many similarities with British cuisine, such as a lack of “aggressive spices”, as well as a fondness for pork, dill and horseradish.

“The taste and flavor are very similar,” he says. “But at the same time, the [cooking] the techniques are completely different. So I think it will be very interesting.”

The main menu will consist of approximately 25 dishes, while a tasting menu will also be available, along with the option of an infused vodka or wine pairing.

Fermented vegetables and fruits, widely used in Ukrainian cuisine, will be featured significantly – the restaurant has its own dedicated fermentation room.

shared dream

Ukrainian chef Yurii Kovryzhenko and his partner Olga Tsybytovska in their London restaurant Mriya.

Ukrainian chef Yurii Kovryzhenko and his partner Olga Tsybytovska in their London restaurant Mriya.

Elena Bazu and Dmitry Novikov

Kovryzhenko and Tsybytovska say they chose the name Mriya, which means “dream” in Ukrainian, for a multitude of reasons.

Not only does this represent their shared dream of taking Ukrainian food to the next level on the world stage, but it was also the name of the world’s largest jet plane, the Antonov An-225 Mriya, which Ukrainian officials have confirmed that it was destroyed during the invasion.

Designed in the 1980s by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Soviet Union, the aircraft has long been a source of national pride for the country’s citizens – Ukrainian aeronautical engineer Petro Balabuyev was the project’s lead designer.

“This [the aircraft] means a lot to Ukrainians,” says Tsybytovska. “It shows how talented Ukrainians can be.

Of course, Mriya also reflects the simple desire for peace and the restoration of everyday life that they and Ukrainians like them share.

“Many Ukrainian families now live apart in different parts of the world,” Tsybytovska says. “And they dream of returning home and sleeping under safe skies. Reclaiming their homes, restoring the country and returning to a previous life.”

The couple hope the restaurant will become a meeting point for Ukrainians and other refugees in London, and plan to use part of the ground floor as a meeting place on Fridays and Saturdays.

Apart from traditional cuisine, Mriya will also showcase artwork and furniture from Ukrainian artists and designers.

“We will give the space a Ukrainian touch and fill it with Ukrainian energy as much as possible,” adds Tsybytovska.

Both believe Ukraine has the potential to become a premier food travel destination and are extremely excited to showcase their national cuisine in a foodie capital like London.

“Gourmet Embassy”

Kovryzhenko says he wants the restaurant to become

Kovryzhenko says he wants the restaurant to become “the food embassy of Ukraine in the UK”.

Elena Bazu and Dmitry Novikov

In fact, Kovryzhenko aims to offer Ukrainian cooking classes at the site in the future, located a short drive from the Ukrainian Embassy.

“I want to make this place a gastronomic embassy of Ukraine,” he says. “The Food Embassy of Ukraine in the UK.”

Since advertising for staff on various social media, they have been inundated with requests from Ukrainian refugees in London who are in desperate need of work.

However, many of those who responded do not speak much English, while some are still waiting for their official documents to arrive, so this is proving to be a problematic process.

“It’s very sad to talk to these people,” says Tsybytovska. “Because some of them are teachers, some of them are doctors and dentists, but they don’t speak English and their degrees are not recognized here. [in the UK].”

Despite these challenges, the couple say they remain committed to staffing the restaurant with displaced Ukrainians.

Although Mriya proves to be a positive distraction, the reality of what is happening in their home is never far from their thoughts.

“My parents and my brother stayed in Ukraine,” says Tsybytovska. “So I can’t be relaxed anymore.”

Fermented fruits and vegetables will feature prominently on the menu.

Fermented fruits and vegetables will feature prominently on the menu.

Elena Bazu and Dmitry Novikov

If and when Mriya makes a profit, a percentage will be donated to charities supporting those affected by the invasion of Ukraine.

Although their extended stay in London was unplanned, both say they feel very lucky to be where they are and have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of help and support they have received. received.

“I’m not sure there is another place in the world where we would have had the opportunity to do so much,” Tsybytovska admits.

Although the couple say they have learned not to plan too far in advance, they hope to return to Ukraine when it is safe to do so, and perhaps even open another Mriya there.

For now, they are focusing their energies on the new restaurant, which is scheduled to open on July 20, and are looking forward to welcoming their first guests.

“We want to create something really, really new,” says Tsybytovska. “It has roots in our culture, but for the locals it will definitely be something new.”

Mriya, 275 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 9JA

Top image credit: Elena Bazu and Dmitriy Novikov

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