Chicago Chefs Cook for Ukraine, photo David Hammond

Last Wednesday night, not long after Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a joint session of Congress, we went to Navy Pier to attend Chicago Chefs Cook for Ukraine, the biggest Chicago restaurant event since the beginning of the 2020 shutdown. Seventy Chicago chefs prepared food for this fund raiser, with all proceeds going to help Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Organized by Chicago chefs, this get-together was presented in conjunction with Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, which has stepped in to serve over a million meals to refugees in Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Moldova, and other countries who are welcoming the many rendered homeless by the war.

Last November, we heard Andres’ speak at the Executive Club of Chicago. Something he said had a big impact on me; he said, “Through food we can create a much more perfect America. We need longer tables not higher walls, and that’s how we’re going to create a better future for American and a better world.”

Longer tables, not higher walls. Yes, that.

Chicago Chefs Cook for Ukraine brought together some of Chicago’s best known chefs, donating their time and talents in support of Ukraine and its people. We went to this event with two friends of Russian descent, and many Russians in Russia – at serious risk to their careers and lives – have been exceptionally vocal in their opposition to Putin’s incursion into Ukraine.

No one would now deem such a move “smart” or “genius.” Putin’s aggression is earning the condemnation of the world, and it’s bringing the world together in support of Ukrainians and against autocratic rulers like Vladimir Putin.

Andres and those who work for his World Central Kitchen are focusing on people who’ve been injured by Putin’s aggression, people who are hungry and need food.  Efforts like this fund-raiser – which generated over $500,000 – help people like us collectively focus on helping refugees and defeating what the world now clearly sees as an autocratic dictator, one of many who’ve emerged in recent history.

Our hearts are with Ukraine. Photo by David Hammond

Supporting Ukraine is a way to land a blow against rising autocracy, at home and abroad, and it’s encouraging to see local restaurants pitching in to help. As Melissa Elsmo has reported, Igor Russo at The Onion Roll spent the first 19 years of his life in Kyiv, Ukraine, and the deli is now offering blue and yellow bagels for five dollars each, with 100% of proceeds going to the Heroes Protection Fund established through Berwyn’s St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. On the other side of town, Autre Monde held a Ukrainian fund-raising dinner, again with 100% of profits devoted to Ukrainian relief. I strongly suspect other restaurants in the Village will join the relief effort, and this outpouring of support makes this Dooper feel good about living in this socially conscious and caring community.

We are undeniably stronger together, and a disaster like the war in Ukraine tends to bring all of us even closer together…at a longer table.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...