The country begins with the land

Ievgen Klopotenko

I believe that food is the story of people. It is the culture of families. And it is part of the national idea. Because tomatoes, for example, are consumed in America, France, and China. But each nation treats this product differently and tells its own story. The same goes for Ukrainian products: they are unique in how we grow and cook them and the emotions we put into this process.

Thanks to our climate, every corner of Ukraine has its original products. In the Carpathian Mountains, it's cheese, mushrooms, and forest berries. The south of Ukraine blesses us with fresh fish, seafood, ripe vegetables, and fruits. The Polissya forests are rich in game and honey. And in the country's central regions, on generous black soil, wheat, sunflowers, and corn ripen. Thanks to this diversity, unique dishes have been created in Ukraine for centuries. Such as huzulka, kulish, vurda, brinza, or cornmeal porridge.

Unfortunately, Ukrainians lost the strength and value of their products for a long time. The Soviet authorities systematically destroyed our national identity, including our cuisine. Thus, the variety of Ukrainian cuisine was replaced by the standard food basket of the USSR. It consisted of no more than 12-14 basic products, attempting to add flavor with the help of mayonnaise. The most illustrative examples are Olivier salad, Shuba salad, and Mimosa salad.

Later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the achievement of Independence, we lost our food among a multitude of foreign products and foreign dishes. And along with it, a significant part of gastronomic traditions, flavor diversity, and even certain types of plants and animals.

Realizing the depth of the problem, I decided to revive what was lost and introduce Ukrainians and the world to forgotten authentic flavors. Therefore, I opened a restaurant of Ukrainian cuisine called "100 Years Ago Forward". Here, I show people what our national cuisine would have been like without the Soviet Union.

In addition, I constantly travel around Ukraine and hunt for unique products: herbs, spices, fruits, and vegetables. For example, one time, I found myself in Rivne. I immediately went to the local market. Various herbs were being sold, and one smelled like a mixture of wild rosemary and lavender. Something delicate yet persistent. I started asking the locals about this plant, and it turned out to be bog myrtle, known as bagulnyk or bagon in Ukrainian. It is a local spice that few people know about. So I brought this bog myrtle to Kyiv. And to popularize it, I introduced it into the restaurant's dishes: desserts and meat. It made their taste more authentic. And the product gained a new life to strengthen Ukrainian culture through food.

Over time, I realized I wanted all the products in my establishment to be exclusively Ukrainian. Many restaurants worldwide claim to be, for example, French while using ginger in their dishes, which are not grown in France. So, for over three years, my establishment was 95% Ukrainian. And I decided that I wanted to achieve the complete 100%.

Our team has been researching food and studying new techniques for several months. And we have reached a point where all our products are born and raised in Ukraine. It's challenging to be fully Ukrainian, 100%. But you know, being Ukrainian has never been easy in general.

We have eliminated black pepper, lemon juice, chocolate, and agar in our kitchen. We don't use products imported from abroad in winter, such as zucchini or eggplants. We have given up these products, not because lemons or black pepper are bad. But because I want to offer my guests a concentrated Ukrainian taste without any additives.

And also, I dream that everyone in Ukraine and beyond gets to know and enjoy authentic Ukrainian products. To experience their independence and uniqueness. So that everyone discovers smoked pears, dried plums, Carpathian brinza cheese, fragrant pumpkin seed oil, smoked peas, and Hutsul yogurt.

None of us chose which land to be born on. But we can decide which land to love. Because the country begins with the land, my choice is obvious. What about yours?



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