Johnny Clark, chef and owner of the Chicago restaurant with whatuses her culinary skills to bring Ukrainian culture to life.
At the same time, it raises awareness of the current devastation facing the country.
“My grandmother’s house is being destroyed, and that has affected me personally, and I just wanted to do something right now,” Clark said.
It was then that he decided to create a Ukrainian-inspired four-course meal. He focuses on dishes that bring back memories of his late grandmother.
“A cool story my grandma told me was that one of her favorite foods was head cheese,” Clark said. “Which is like a pig’s head where all the meat is separated and then reconstituted as gelatin.”
As the world watches hundreds of thousands of refugees flee Ukraine, Clark recalls his grandmother’s trip out of the country many years ago.
“She was afraid to talk about Russia in a negative way,” he said. “I grew up in Ohio, and she will tell me that she was afraid to speak out loud about the Soviet Union. They took her father away in the middle of the night and they never saw him again.
His culinary effort also revives family memories.
“Every Christmas, my grandmother made deviled eggs. I don’t know if it’s a Ukrainian thing, but I’m sure it is,” Clark said. “She was bringing this big round tray that had all the deviled eggs in place.”
Diners flock to the restaurant at 3472 N. Elston Ave. show solidarity.
“I’m actually from a country bordering Ukraine, so I bought this and wanted to wear it today to show my support,” Michaela Karim said.
Another client, who only gave his name as Matt for fear of putting his family at risk, shares the importance of preserving his culture, now more than ever.
“I have always loved my heritage. I’ve always been proud, but I’ve never been more proud than now. I am especially proud of President Zelenskky, who has become such a hero,” the Rogers Park resident said.
A portion of the sales will go directly to a nonprofit organization working to help Ukrainians, Clark said.
“We’re here in spirit and we’re ‘razom,’ which means together,” Clark said.
Clark says creating the menu helped him navigate the painful events affecting his people.
“I’m very proud to be Ukrainian, but it just hurts and I don’t even know if I can still go,” he said.
He hopes the food will resonate with his customers.
“These are flavors of Ukraine, but there’s also a personal expression there,” he said. “I always try to be creative with food, and it’s not traditional but inspired by Ukrainian recipes.”
The first Ukrainian-inspired menu was such a hit that Clark plans to create another one this week.