Recently, a new catering service “Ukrainian Traditional Food” was opened in Orlando. And in this issue of the magazine, we would like to introduce you to the masters of culinary art, thanks to whom Ukrainian cuisine is in great demand on American soil.
The author of the new service is Anna Byrnes, a volunteer, entrepreneur, patriot, a person of good will and just a charming woman with a big heart.

As Anna says, she always loved to cook homemade food, invite guests, and feed her relatives and friends deliciously. And when she came to America, despite the overseas products, she was able to adapt Ukrainian cuisine to local products. Anna’s culinary skills were first appreciated by her American husband, who really liked Ukrainian Borscht with a slice of rye bread and lard, and then by friends and neighbors. At first it was a hobby and then friends asked to order, and Anna cooked with great pleasure for her family and loved ones.

Anna had been hatching the idea of the project itself for a long time, but the main motive was the recent events in Ukraine.

– It all started with my husband and I doing charity work for many years, cooperating with the Order of St. Lazarus, an international Christian, chivalric and charitable Order that provides support to the poor social strata of the population in different countries, especially with leprosy. Our organization does a lot of volunteer and charitable work, and we provide medical and humanitarian assistance to people in need. When the war began in Ukraine on February 24, I told my husband – we help all countries, it’s time to help my country too. 

Anna and her husband John have been volunteers for more than 20 years and consider it their main mission to help people in need. The first of the two big focuses of the St. Lazarus organization are helping people in all countries suffering from leprosy, as people with this disease live in special settlements and have no means of subsistence. Members of the organization collect money, which are then transferred to representatives in the field who in turn purchase and deliver medical supplies to settlements that help treat these patients. In addition to medical assistance, the organization also conducts special programs, such as Microlending, which helps the poor develop their small businesses (farming, services), earn money and thereby contributing to the development of other small companies.

The second focus – organ and tissue donation/education, are educational programs designed to increase the awareness of our population of the importance of organ donation. Additionally, the organization helps provide some help for families and recipients during the period of organ transplantation by sponsoring living quarters so that families can be close to together and support their recipient.

An additional project under development with the Order is the development of a hospital in a small village in Tanzania that will provide needed medical services in a large, vastly under-served area not currently covered by other medical resources.

As Anna said, their organization is widely represented not only in America, but also in many European countries – Germany, England, Poland, Spain, Italy, Norway, to name just a few. From the first days of the war in Ukraine, all countries began to cooperate and build a logical chain to raise money and purchase and deliver medical and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Since it was not cost effective to work with civilian transport companies, the organization from the first days began to work with the military and have plans to deliver 90 pallets of donated medical supplies (each weighing about a 1000 lbs) to Ukraine of necessary medical aid for surgery. Norway organized the transportation of refugees from Ukraine by bus. Poland received and settled refugees. All countries provided financial aid, as well as the first necessary humanitarian and medical assistance.

– In these difficult days for my Motherland, all countries provided operational support. Logistics was built in such a way that under our leadership every cent was under control. We are all volunteers from different countries, we were in touch with each other all the time and everyone quickly performed their part of the work on the ground. And for us it is very important that the money goes to its intended purpose, from point A to Z.

The events in Ukraine have become a great test for Ukrainians, especially for those who had previously entered the United States and could no longer return home to Ukraine. People were left without a livelihood, without shelter, work and money. Many began to apply for American programs, but this is also a long process to obtain documents and work permits.

– First of all, I thought, who can come? Mothers, grandmothers, children, many do not know the language. How can they exist in this situation, where to work? Kitchen, nannies, cleaning, nurses – this is a small range of work. How can I help them? I also have a cleaning company. And I thought, who is younger, can work in cleaning, who is older – in the kitchen. And so the idea arose, why not open Ukrainian traditional cuisine and to enable my compatriots to earn their living! 

Anna then took up the process of preparing and processing documents and obtaining needed certificates and licenses, which took six months. She also secured a licensed commercial kitchen in Longwood in which she and her team would prepare and distribute her Ukrainian food on a weekly basis. The official confirmation came in early September, on the same day that Hurricane Ian hit Florida. But despite this, a team of workers went to work the same day. As Anna noted, America has very high standards and requirements for food certification. An example of this is that when the inspector issued the last documents on a Friday, they called the very next Monday from the inspector’s office and asked more follow-up questions about our standards for electricity, temperature in refrigeration and freezing installations.

There are currently 4 people in the kitchen, aged 30-50 years. Anna is ready to offer a job to many, but everyone must have a work permit and SSN and you must pass the State of Florida Food handler certification. Those who came to the States a long time ago have only just begun to receive official documents. But this is only the beginning – in the near future, there will be an increase in staff, expansion of the product line and more diversity of the menu, along with expansion of the geographic coverage and delivery area to other states of America. The company’s website is currently being developed, which will improve services and increase sales.

Anna is greatly assisted and supported by her family – her husband and son, and her son helps with the delivery of orders to customers.

Technically, the team works once a week, since this is a special commercial kitchen rental for 2 days. According to the service concept, these are freshly prepared and fresh frozen semi-finished products that need to be brought to readiness or simply reheated. On each Friday morning the team purchases fresh products and then the cooks prepare her menu items from everything that was purchased. Semi-finished products are cooled, packed in containers and frozen in special freezers. On Saturday, all products go on sale. Customers mainly order food through the application using a QR code 24/7.

Every week a new menu is compiled, depending on the available fresh purchases. Everything is purchased fresh in stores from farms – meat, vegetables, herbs, fruits and dairy. Basically, the menu is divided into regions of Ukraine. For example, Volyn Western Ukraine is famous for benderrics – these are pancakes stuffed with meat and fried in egg batter.

There is a huge variety of soups as there are more than 50 kinds of soups in Ukraine – red and green borscht, and beef, pork, fish and mushroom broths. The very popular “Zaporozhian Cabbage” is a soup based on sauerkraut and pork ribs.

– I always put myself in the place of others, this is such a service that when people feel good, then I feel good too. If people eat my borscht and it tastes good to them, then it tastes good to me too.

For the second courses, customers mainly order Varenyky with a variety of fillings, including meat, potatoes, mushrooms, cheese, stewed cabbage, cherries, apples and strawberries.

The company also launched fresh pastries, which are very popular with mushrooms, cabbage, and apples. Moreover, the menu provides dishes not only for those who love meat, but also vegetarian dishes. The new service has been working for more than a month, but it has already received wide recognition among Orlando residents, and already has its own permanent client base. Traditional cuisine is known to not only compatriots, but also to Americans who come in, become interested and now enjoy and appreciate Ukrainian folk cuisine.

– I am always proud that I am from Ukraine and I am glad that I contribute to the common cause. I invested in the culture of Ukrainian cuisine, in support of the Ukrainian people. I invested in peace and victory, for the independence of my Motherland.

Leila Iskakova
Photo courtesy of Anna Byrnes