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Where Y’Eat: New Orleans Restaurants Rally For Ukraine with Food

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Ian McNulty
The Slavic sampler plate at the Green Room restaurant in New Orleans

The hearty cooking of Eastern Europe did not automatically seem like a natural fit in New Orleans, at least not during the seasons outside gumbo weather. But third-generation Ukrainian chef Matt Ribachonek nonetheless built a following for this food at his restaurant the Green Room , on Saint Bernard Avenue

It’s borsch the color of claret, pierogi laced with caramelized onion, dense, brick red sausage and plump cabbage rolls.

Ribachonek calls his cooking Slavic soul food, and its heart and meaning have never been more resonant than now against the backdrop of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Next Tuesday, April 12, he’ll tap this heritage for a fundraiser at the Green Room with Eastern European food and music to assist humanitarian relief in Ukraine, one of a growing number of such efforts coming through New Orleans hospitality.

These are the very businesses that are only beginning to pull themselves up from two years of harsh pandemic tumult. But here they are again, drawn to their compulsive role of giveback and rallying for others – whether for neighbors after that tornado, or people from across the globe.

Ukrainian food was a centerpiece for a fundraiser in March at Parlay’s Bar in Lakeview that resembled a neighborhood block party for direct support.

The connection there is close. The bar’s DJ is from Ukraine, and he was recently able to get his parents safely to New Orleans.

The newly-reunited family were together at the event, where hundreds of people came out to contribute to this and other families in similar straits.

In the thick of it, the mother, newly arrived from a war zone, calmly and proudly ladled out okroshka, a chilled cucumber and potato soup dappled with herbs.

This is a dish for a warm day in New Orleans, cool and refreshing, rich and bright.

But what fit more than any flavor profile is the way that heart and gratitude came with it, so evident from a beaming cook as she served another bowl. That’s an aspect of food that will always feel at home in this community.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.