Just two months ago, chef Hugh Acheson was overseeing the debut of his latest Atlanta restaurant Mount Royal, a Montreal-style steakhouse at the Hyatt Centric hotel in Buckhead. Now, the chef finds himself on the ground in Romania coordinating food distribution efforts there for World Central Kitchen (WCK) to help feed refugees fleeing from the Russian invasion in neighboring Ukraine.
Acheson began planning his trip to assist WCK within hours of the invasion. The nonprofit food relief organization run by chef Jose Andres had already mobilized volunteers who were on the way to Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Hungary to provide hot meals at pedestrian border crossings to people fleeing the violence in Ukraine.
Immediately following a dinner event at the Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, North Carolina, Acheson says he and chef Sam Herndon (head of Acheson’s culinary team) were on a plane to Romania. They are leading food operations at the refugee encampments along the border crossings in the country through March 11.
“I have been friends with Jose Andres for many years, and WCK has always been something I have supported, whether it has been through raising funds or getting activated to do tacos for the polls during the 2018 election cycle,” Acheson says of his continued involvement with the nonprofit organization.
Acheson answered a call to action by Andres after seeing an Instagram post from the activist chef who was on the Polish border to Ukraine last week. The post included the hashtag #ChefsForUkraine. In subsequent Instagram posts, Andres speaks of freezing temperatures at night, firefighters volunteering to cook for refugees crossing into Poland, and a bakery outside of Lviv, Ukraine, feeding residents of the city and people fleeing the country.
“I can help cook, expedite, and triage a very complex situation,” Acheson tells Eater. “I have always viewed what Jose does as the leader of WCK as ‘expediting.’ In restaurant parlance, that is the person who conveys the chaos of food coming through the pass and gets it to the right table, in the correct order, in perfect condition.”
He believes expediting in the kitchen can easily translate to other forms of crisis management.
In addition to setting up food distribution centers and housing for refugees in border countries with Ukraine, WCK is also working in Odesa, Ukraine, with chef Aleksander Yourz of Yourz Space Bistro feeding people unable to leave the city or who are fighting Russian troops. The organization is currently supporting restaurants preparing food to help feed communities in four other Ukrainian cities, including hard hit Kharkiv and in Lviv 50 miles from the Polish border.
According to the latest figures from the United Nations Refugee Agency, over 875,000 people have already fled Ukraine since the invasion began on February 24. That number increases with each passing hour.
Acheson admits he’s still digesting what he’s seeing and encountering at the Romanian border with his work this time for WCK.
“It is snowing a lot here in northern Romania and I worry about literally half a million people wandering in the cold wondering when they will ever sleep in their beds at home again,” he says. “Give money. Pray a lot. My 17-year-old daughter is starting a fundraising campaign to get toiletries to those in need on the frontline. We can all do things.”
Click here to donate directly to the Ukrainian support efforts by World Central Kitchen.
If you know of fundraising efforts taking place at or coordinated by local Atlanta restaurants for Ukraine, send Eater an email with details to firstname.lastname@example.org.