CLEVELAND — Chef Brandon Chrostowski, founder and president of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, works with people who were formerly incarcerated, training them with skills for the hospitality and food industries, and providing them with resources.
Now, he’s hoping to make a difference beyond Northeast Ohio, traveling to Ukraine on Tuesday night to distribute supplies and feed people.
This won’t be Chrostowski’s first time to the region. In 2022, he travelled to Poland, to a city where he said refugees were coming in from Ukraine. There, he saw firsthand the impact and heartbreak of the war.
“To see the despair, to see this agony, if you would. Imagine like the size of a Sam’s Club, or Beachwood Mall, one story, filled with women and children,” he said. “The strongest individual would cry. It’s bad, it’s devastating.”
Knowing that the struggle is ongoing, Chrostowski is going back, this time to Ukraine, where he is planning to stay for just over a week.
He’ll bring with him a box of seeds to help people grow their own food, as well as quilts and medical supplies for children’s hospitals. He’s also bringing his son’s favorite comic book, which his son wrote a note inside. The hope is to give it to a child in Ukraine.
"Just providing some encouragement, right? There's obviously a war-torn country, and there's some need. And so providing a little bit of that, you know, optimism, a little bit of supplies,” he said. “I'll be working with Ukraine's most well-known chef as well, making sure people get fed."
That chef is Ievgen Klopotenko, who Chrostowski will be working alongside. He said he doesn’t know what to expect, but knows they will find a way to cook and feed people.
“We’re chefs, we make it happen. The difference being it’s unpredictable, and you never know what it’s going to be. But you know how to cook, you get an open flame, you get a pot, you can make something,” Chrostowski said. “He has a restaurant so he’ll have a facility, and if that facility is functioning, there’s power and there’s gas, we’re good. If not, you know you take that thing mobile and you have tanks and you make it work there.”
Chrostowski will spend time in Kyiv, where he will meet the city’s mayor. Though he knows the war is ongoing, he said he is not thinking about the potential risks, focusing instead on the positive impact he hopes to make.
“I put a will together, I got a signer on the account here, so professionally, personally, things are in order. I feel comfortable with where I’m at. If something does happen, it happens, none of us are eternal,” he said. “I don’t even think that, I think about the positivity.”
The trip also aligns with his birthday, on January 29th. Though he’ll be far from home, Chrostowski said this is how he wants to spend the day.
“I don’t have any idea exactly what will happen, but I know how to cook.”