‘Freedom dumplings’: the chefs cooking in solidarity with Ukraine | Restaurants

In Culver City, a Chinese restaurant is selling bright blue and yellow “freedom dumplings”, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. In West Hollywood, a popular cocktail bar is offering a special “Pruzhnyy”, or resilience, cocktail, made with Ukrainian Khor vodka. Bakeries across California are making special batches of hamentaschen, a Jewish cookie associated with resistance to tyrannical government officials, and pampushka, a Ukrainian garlic bread.

It’s all part of a wave of solidarity among California chefs, who are using food to show support for Ukrainians after Russia’s invasion and to fundraise for humanitarian relief efforts.

All the proceeds from the special menu items are going to organizations such as World Central Kitchen, the non-profit offering hot meals to Ukrainian refugees at border crossings; Polish Humanitarian Action; Libereco PHR, a Swiss-German relief group; and Unicef. Although the individual dollar amounts raised are often modest, the chefs, bakers and bartenders involved said they want to send a message.

An image of a pink cocktail topped off with a raspberry and strawberry on a toothpick.
The Pruzhnyy cocktail at Employees Only is made with Ukrainian vodka, stone fruit, and berries, a nod to the flavors of Nalyvka, a fruity Ukrainian liqueur. Photograph: Courtesy Tom Sopit/Employees Only

“We’re a tiny little bar in Los Angeles, but we wanted [Ukrainians] to know that we’re here to support them, no matter what,” said Tom Sopit, the managing director of Employees Only in West Hollywood.

“I understand the price of freedom. I didn’t grow up in a democracy,” said Shirley Chung, the Los Angeles chef who created the blue and yellow dumplings. Watching Ukrainians fighting for their democracy, she said, “I feel like they’re fighting for the world.”

Two pans hold several dozen blue and yellow dumplings
Chef Shirley Chung was inspired to make her dumplings by the global campaign Cook for Ukraine. Photograph: Courtesy of Shirley Chung/Ms Chi Cafe

The California food industry relief efforts are part of a broader international movement. Chung said she was inspired by Cook for Ukraine, a global campaign started by London-based chefs Alissa Timoshkina, who is Russian, and Olia Hercules, who is Ukrainian, which raised more than £75,000 ($98,000) in donations in its first week. Those two friends were inspired by a previous culinary campaign, Cook for Syria, which encourages people to cook traditional meals and talk about the crisis, while also donating money for relief efforts.

Colorful flat hold golden brown fried cauliflower.
Olia Hercules’ cauliflower fritters. Photograph: Joe Woodhouse/Joe Woodhouse/Bloomsbury

Food industry workers in California say watching the swiftness and brutality of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the past weeks has left them feeling powerless, so they turned to what they knew how to do: feeding people.

The freedom dumplings at Ms Chi Cafe in Culver City are a tribute to Ukrainian-style varenyky, filled with chicken, mushrooms, dill, and sunchoke, a nod to sunflowers, the symbol of Ukrainian resistance. They’re for sale nationwide on Goldbelly, as well as in Chung’s Los Angeles restaurant.

Chung said she was inspired by an NBC News story about Ukrainian women working around the clock to make dumplings to feed soldiers and people displaced by the war, and by conversations about Ukraine relief efforts among her own social networks. “Many of my friends, bakers and chefs, they’re all working on events to raise awareness,” she said. “We just wanted to do as much as we can as fast as we can.”

Sopit, of Employees Only, said he searched across the region to find Ukrainian vodka, and then drove to Pasadena himself to pick up the only cases he could find.

Three plates hold hamantaschen, a triangular cookie that resembles a hat with a fruit filling.
Friends & Family, a bakery in East Hollywood is selling out of dozens of hamantaschen every day. Photograph: Roxana Jullapat/Friends & Family

Raffles, bake sales and other Ukraine fundraising efforts across Los Angeles have drawn everyone from rising pastry chefs to the city’s most elite restaurants, such as award-winning chef Suzanne Goin’s AOC. Multiple Los Angeles bakeries have joined an international social media campaign, Hamantaschen for Ukraine. The Jewish cookie, traditionally served during Purim, is named after a tyrannical Persian official who tried to exterminate the Jewish people. “Ukrainians are, in real time, facing a modern-day Haman in Vladimir Putin,” the website explains, encouraging both professional and amateur bakers to sell the cookies to support refugees at the Polish border.

Friends and Family, a bakery in East Hollywood, is selling out of dozens of hamantaschen every day by noon, said Roxana Jullapat, the co-owner and head baker. A Los Angeles vegan Jewish deli, Mort and Betty’s, is also participating.

The donations are particularly meaningful because many restaurants, bakeries and bars are still struggling from the financial toll of the pandemic, said Steph Chen of Gather for Good, which organized a Ukraine fundraiser that has brought in tens of thousands of dollars.

“Everyone is constantly in question of whether the lights are going to stay on or not, or if they could pay their staff,” Chen said. “Despite all of this, there is still this overwhelming response.”

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