This Graffiti Artist-Turned-Chef is Feeding an Army
Meet Aleksander Yourz
Aleksander Yourz of Odessa, Ukraine has worn many hats in his career—hiphop DJ, graffiti artist, restaurant owner, and now, a volunteer chef for the Ukrainian army.
Chef Aleksander owns and runs Yourz Space Bistro, a restaurant at the forefront of the Odessa food scene. While the bistro once served creative cocktails, classic Ukrainian cuisine, homemade ice cream, and a wide selection of wines, they now offer simpler fare on a much larger scale.
Meals for hungry soldiers, volunteers, and citizens unable to leave the war-torn city.
Before the Invasion
A few months ago, Yourz Space Bistro was an upscale eatery with a 90s-inspired outer space theme. The restaurant is full of graffiti art and pops of bright color against black and white. The large windows let in a constant stream of sunshine, which Chef Aleksander calls “a steady stream of cosmic energy” that he uses “to create ideas.” Lampshades and potted plants hang low from the ceiling, suspended like flying saucers above the diners. Menus and countertops are dotted with colorful, futuristic paint splatter.
The menu is full of choices like beef tartare with parmesan creme, artisan burgers served with truffle oil and pâté, Tom Yum soup with lobster tails, and a host of homemade ice cream flavors. With bold colors and bolder flavors, Yourz Space Bistro is one of the most popular restaurants in Odessa.
Chef Aleksander is part of the “Gastropunk” movement in Odessa, which strives to combine visual art with traditional Ukrainian dishes. He uses his history as a graffiti artist to create beautiful paintings on the plate, with meals inspired by Ukrainian and Jewish classics.
But Chef Aleksander put that artistry and innovation aside the day that Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
Serving His Country
When Russia invaded, Chef Aleksander decided to stay in Odessa and help his country however he could.
“Why should I go?” he tells Rolling Stone in a recent interview. “I am not alone in this. . . For ten years, I built this business in my country.”
Chef Aleksander partnered with World Central Kitchen (WCK), an international nonprofit that provides food to those in crisis. With WCK’s help, he turned Yourz Space Bistro into a kitchen for the armed forces gathering in the city. WCK provided fresh shipments of food and supplies, while Chef Aleksander made hot, nourishing meals.
On any given day, Chef Aleksander and his team prepared between 600 and 1000 meals for soldiers and Odessa residents. They sent out hundreds of lunchboxes with handwritten notes of encouragement. Though the food was simpler than Chef’s usual fare—pasta, couscous, salads, a coffee—it was no less appreciated.
Hope for the Future
On April 2, 2022, over a month after Russia’s initial attack on Ukraine, Yourz Space Bistro announced that they would open their doors again to the public, and not just for Ukrainian soldiers.
This soft reopening featured a limited menu and a promise that Chef Aleksander would continue to serve food to the military in addition to the public. The Bistro now stands as a safe haven in Odessa, a place where all can respite in the comfort of good food, and a beacon of hope for the Ukrainian economy.
Though there are many uncertainties about the future of Ukraine, this is sure: Chef Aleksander will be at the forefront, serving food and sharing joy.
You can support WCK and their partners in Ukraine, including Chef Aleksander. Your gift will ensure food shipments continue to cities like Odessa, so the people of Ukraine do not go hungry. Will you join us in supporting WCK?