What it’s like to work in a global central kitchen factory three miles from the Ukrainian border
In the days Post of Steve “Nookie” spent working in a World Central Cuisine (WCK) in Przemysl, Poland, just three miles from the Ukrainian border, life can feel repetitive: five to six thousand sandwiches put together every day, hours spent on your feet doing the same task over and over again.
And then there were the tanks. Every day, on his hour-long commute from the WCK facilities to his Airbnb in Rzenzow, Postal passed huge tanks on trailers heading for the Ukrainian border.
“It takes you back to – it’s a war zone. I saw the same thing and I continued to see it every day, whether it was tanks or missile launchers or armored vehicles or the ones you see that are covered and when you raise the cover, they are filled with weapons. You see it every day.
The United Nations estimates that more than 11 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine since the start of the conflict. On five million left for neighboring countries, while 6.5 million are displaced in Ukraine, according to the BBC. Only Poland hosted nearly 3 million refugeesaccording to recent United Nations estimates.
Postal, owner of the Commonwealth of Cambridge and co-owner of mini-café chain Revival Cafe & Kitchen, traveled to Poland on April 1 to help WCK, the nonprofit founded by chef José Andrés, with l intend to stay 10 days.
His decision to join WCK’s work in Poland was catalyzed by what he saw as the lack of government support for small restaurants here in the US in the wake of the Covid pandemic.
“While I was wallowing, this war started and I said fuck it. Let me show these motherfuckers what it’s like to help people.
WCK is working to bring food to areas of the world facing crisis. When the Ukrainian conflict began, WCK quickly set up an outpost in Poland with a walk-in fridge, eight full cooking stations and prep areas with 12 huge paella pans and 12 large ovens, according to a communicated. A few hours after the invasion, the organization began to serve hot meals at pedestrian border crossings people fleeing violence in Ukraine.
With several kitchens now set up in Poland and Ukraine, the nonprofit has served millions of meals to refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine. On the ground since the first day of the war, the organization says that it is served over 11 million meals until now.
“Everyone is there to help and because they want to be there because of what we do and how we feel.” The atmosphere, he says, is electric.
Alongside volunteers from around the world (Postal has met people from “Spain, Portland, NYC, the Netherlands, Montana, Arizona, Nashville, Australia…the list goes on”), Postal worked in a production kitchen that delivered meals to refugees at border crossings. Thirteen chefs from France have arrived for a few days; one may have been President Macron’s personal chef, he says. WCK has also hired Ukrainian refugees to work, he says.
“It’s good to have people who speak Ukrainian and Polish. Because it’s not just about food; it’s about getting it where it needs to go. WCK workers and volunteers didn’t just cook: they were involved in logistics like driving, sourcing produce, and more. “On the other hand, it’s about getting it to people.”
In the WCK factory in Przemysl, Postal estimates that they prepared around 10,000 meals a day. A giant pallet of beets arrived, so they made a volunteer’s grandmother’s borscht recipe, which yielded about 3,000 servings. They made goulash, stews of lamb, chicken and rice, bread pudding with day before bread and tons of hot chocolate and sandwiches. They cut and steamed pallets of apples and carrots for baby food.
The anger Postal felt at the government’s response to struggling restaurants was spurred by the Covid pandemic they had endured. That’s why he went to Poland – to help people in difficulty. Ultimately, Covid ended Postal’s work there. Fully vaccinated and boosted, Postal caught the Covid (he’s fine). He had to quit his job earlier than he wanted to, but he’s glad he went.
“I feel so bad for all these people who have nowhere to go and only have what they can take with them,” Postal says. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen and met a bunch of amazing people and cooked so much food.”
Postal raises funds for WCK through its Instagram account. At his Revival cafes, he’s donating half of all sales of his top-selling Plain Jane breakfast sandwich for the month of April.
To donate to World Central Kitchen, visit the website.