The Culinary Front is organized in Dnipro. Every day, a team of professional chefs and volunteers feeds hundreds of soldiers and migrants. And for Easter, they've prepared special gifts for them — aromatic Easter cakes. We visited the kitchen of the restaurant for a few hours to visit the kitchen front.
Special Easter cakes
A scattered cloud of flour, eggs with stiff sunny yolks, wet yeast, heavy butter, crackling streams of sugar, and fragrant spices. The aroma spreads through the kitchen, which you feel only once a year. If you've felt it, you know for sure: Easter is coming soon.
Natalia Isaikina brings the classic recipe for Easter cake with raisins. She is a professional confectioner who worked in Dnipro's famous restaurants, and for the last two years, she headed the kitchen of a large catering service. But here the woman is a volunteer. She came to help because they were looking for free hands.
"It was a job then. Yes, with soul and desire…" Natalia turns away to check how the dough is doing and wipes her wet eyes with the back of her hand.
"And now it's completely different," the confectioner concludes.
Natalia knows dozens of different Easter recipes, but the one she'd like to repeat is not carved in her memory. The woman's grandmother Marina used to prepare for Easter. She lived in a small village in the Piatyhatky district of the Dnipropetrovsk region.
The old woman always kneaded Easter cake in the evening and got up several times a night to work on the dough. The largest pastries came out like a 5-liter bottle. After the stove, the cake had black sides, which her grandmother always cleaned. This giant was consecrated in the church and then tasted by the entire family.
"Eggs, sour cream, milk—everything then was home-made, from garden and farm. Even the yeast was made by hand: hops are dried and then fermented. Recipes for baking were passed from their mothers, and the mother got them from their mothers, and so on," Natalia reveals the secret of a remarkable taste of her Easter cake.
Grandmother Marina lost her husband at the front of the Second World War. The defender died five days before the birth of his youngest son, Natalia's father. The old woman raised three daughters and a son by herself.
"I try to imitate her in everything," says the confectioner.
Three men in Natalia's family went to defend Ukraine. And the woman chose herself a culinary front because it's the easiest thing she can do. She bakes buns and charlottes for fighters and defenders, and now for the second day, she's been kneading the dough for Easter cakes. "Men love sweets," Natalia smiles.
And she adds: the secret of a good Easter delicacy is a "living" dough. But it should be handled properly. Be sure to knead it at least a little after kneading in the combiner. This is how you give to it your warmth and energy. Natalia always "whispers" to the upcoming Easter cake: "I wish victory to our boys."
For one batch Natalia takes 8 kilograms of flour, 3 liters of milk, and 18 eggs. 160 Easter cakes come out of this number of products. Hundreds of baked Easter delicacies will be traditionally decorated, and eggs will be painted for them. Everything will be consecrated together and then handed over to soldiers and displaced persons. At least 700 people will be congratulated on Easter!
Every five minutes something is being carried past the nooks and crannies where Natalia bakes Easter cakes. Tens of kilograms of peeled potatoes in one direction, and the ones that need peeling in another. They bring carrots, onions, several boxes of hundreds of eggs, and briquettes with minced meat, and liver. The movement is accompanied by polite: "Careful," "Girls, move so we can get through," "It's us again." And huge pots of food are gurgling nearby.
Leonid Maliuha is the kitchen "conductor" and a chef. But more often you see him not among the pots, but with the phone in his hand. He is looking for products from which to prepare meals.
"We started preparing for Easter three weeks in advance. We asked on Instagram for the forms for Easter cakes, plus meticulously collected butter. We had two piles: one for now, the other for Easter," says Leonid Maliuha.
The man and his family came to Dnipro at Christmas. He was preparing to open a restaurant in his new city in mid-March. The feature of the place had to be the healthy eco-products and interesting combinations of flavors. At the end of February, they planned to develop a menu, but on the 24th a full-scale war broke out in Ukraine.
"The first or second day was shocking. And on the third or fourth day, we realized that we needed to do something," Leonid recalls.
The hall for visitors wasn't ready yet, but the kitchen was completely done. It was decided to use it to the fullest. So we started cooking for those who need hot and nutritious food every day: soldiers, IDPs, children, and the elderly. Initially, they made a hundred servings a day.
"It was important for me as a chief to understand the possibilities of this kitchen. How many people can we feed? To increase the amount of food, we had to buy another stove."
There was a great lack of hands that could cook a lot of food. Volunteers were searched for through social media. Not only professional chefs responded to the call, but also people from different professions. So fitness trainers and even store directors started working in the kitchen.
"Imagine, I came to a city where I didn't know anyone. And now I have a team! If it weren't for the war, I just wouldn't know 80% of the people I'm grateful to now and consider my comrades."
If the first batch of food was a hundred servings, now, thanks to a large team, it is possible to feed 500–700 people every day.
Every Leonid Malyuha's day begins with thoughts about what will be prepared today. It is difficult to predict the menu for at least two days because the products are received through volunteers, foundations, and caring residents. When and what will be brought is hard to guess.
"I come to the kitchen, start work processes and begin looking for products. My colleagues are also looking for something at the same time. If they brought apples, there would be charlotte. If there are canned chickpeas, we will add them to the roast. We tried to make a menu in advance. We were planning to make fish balls. We ordered the minced fish, but at the last moment it turned out that it's simply unavailable."
Therefore, working in the war forces the chef to be resourceful: to cook from what is available at this moment, and quickly change the menu. Recently, an interesting story happened with milk. The kitchen received 30 liters with a short shelf life.
"In everyday life, I would have thought whether to take it or not. But now we cannot throw around food, so I agreed immediately. We boiled cheese out of it and got three kilograms, but it would be 10 grams each for 300–400 people. Then I decided to make melted cheese from it. It already weighed 5 kilograms, it was still not enough. Then I added fat goat's milk and spices and got Philadelphia. And we managed to make as many as 400 burgers with it," Leonid smiles at his inventiveness.
Today's menu includes soup, rice, cabbage salad, pastries and homemade capers with horseradish.
"We had an average number of pork hooves. They were used for stock, cooked with garlic, and stewed in tomato sauce. But now we have only meat products left for tomorrow. So it was the turn of the cabbage. Yes, it's steamy. But we have no choice, we have to feed people," Leonid says. "You and I are sitting in fairly warm apartments, and in the evening we come home. But we have this opportunity thanks to the fighters who face the enemy with weapons in their hands."
To give our defenders a pinch of heat, warm pastries are added to each portion. It can be a donut with garlic, a bun, a muffin, a charlotte. The fighters have already thanked the chefs for their care: they came to the restaurant to hug the women who bake it all. They promise to come to the restaurant when it finally opens after the war. There was another case with defenders that shocked Leonid:
"The soldier we fed wrote, 'Give me a bank card number, and we'll send you money.' Imagine these people are still thinking about helping us! I turned him down, but he found the numbers through acquaintances. He said, 'You care about someone and I want to take care of you. Buy yourself some candy.'"
Leonid says that if they are enlisted, they will go to defend the homeland, but now they will do what works well.
"We can be drivers or pilots at the forefront but we will not do it very well. In my opinion, we have to deal with what works best for us. Therefore, we will remain as useful as possible in our place."
Leonid's good job can be supported: bring food to the kitchen or help with money. You can find out his card number and the address of the restaurant in Dnipro on his Instagram.
Photo: Oleksandra Tkach
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