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‘We were a little bit starstruck:’ Prominent chef mentors newcomers at Ukraine’s Kitchen

A well-known Edmonton chef is helping newcomers navigate their new lives as part of the local culinary landscape.

Brad Smoliak, whose accolades include cooking for Queen Elizabeth II and athletes at two Olympic Games, has been spending his early retirement mentoring chefs at Ukraine’s Kitchen.

The restaurant opened in northeast Edmonton in June. It offers hot meals, frozen foods and catering and is run entirely by Ukrainian newcomers who fled the war back home.

“The girls are just so excited every time he comes in,” said Ukraine’s Kitchen co-founder Jorgia Moore. “We’ve been very thankful because there’s a lot of things that we need to learn as we navigate owning a kitchen.”

A former restaurateur and consultant, Smoliak was forced to step away from the industry after being diagnosed with late-stage heart failure in 2018.

Because of a congenital heart defect, he isn’t a candidate for a heart transplant.

“Five years ago at this time, they said, ‘Get your affairs in order. There’s nothing we can do for you,'” Smoliak said.

However, there was something doctors from the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute could do and Smoliak has been living for the past five years with the help of an artificial heart.

It’s kept him alive, but it’s meant some big life changes.

“Unfortunately, with my heart condition I was told it’s time to put the knife down and relax a little bit,” he said.

While the battery-powered heart can’t handle the heat, Smoliuk couldn’t stay out of the kitchen forever and he’s been using his early retirement to mentor chefs at Ukraine’s Kitchen.

“We were a little bit starstruck, because he has a little bit of a local celebrity in the food scene,” Moore said. “When we heard that he was interested in what we had going on here and what we were doing, we were just overjoyed.”

Smoliak visits the restaurant every Wednesday to share his experience, fine-tune the operation and help translate the team’s culinary skills to a commercial scale.

“He helps us with suggestions, with ideas,” said chef Yulia Shabanoca. “All his experience helps us make our processes here more efficient.

“We are so grateful for Brad.”

Smoliuk said he’s grateful for the opportunity as well. It’s a different pace than his previous chef posts, and it’s given him a chance to learn more about his Ukrainian heritage and its complex culinary traditions.

“My grandfather came over 100 years ago and built a life, and thank goodness he came when he did,” Smoliak said. “Watching what has happened over in Ukraine in the last couple of years, it’s just plain and simple, it’s not right.

“And it’s just fed the soul to come down, and I’m learning about Ukrainian food and how different it is from different regions, it’s fascinating.”

“Brad shares his experience with us, and we share our experience with Brad, and I think it’s like [a] win-win situation,” Shabanova said.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jessica Robb  

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