Chef David Guas was like many of us when he saw the images coming out of Ukraine — upset and desperate to do something.
“My wife was tired of me yelling at the TV… she says, ‘You should text José [Andrés] to let him know you want to do something,”’ the owner of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse and occasional television personality tells ARLnow. “And a couple of hours later, there was an email saying David was on his way to Poland. There was no turning back.”
Guas spent 15 days last month in Poland working with World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit founded by Andrés, to help feed Ukrainian refugees as they fled their war-torn home. Earlier this week, the Arlington-based chef also donated $21,000 from his Community Spoon initiative to WCK to help continue its mission in Europe.
“It’s going to be used to buy food. Beef, borscht, cabbage, some potatoes…It’s going to continue to just fuel them financially, so they can continue to think big,” Guas says about his donation.
This isn’t the first time that Arlington’s resident celebrity chef has helped during hard times. In the early part of the pandemic, he formed Chefs Feeding Families, which provided free, plant-based meals to underserved Arlington families. Then, he served up meals to the National Guard and local law enforcement protecting the Capitol. Last year, he put together Community Spoon, which was initially founded to help feed Afghan refugees coming into the region.
Then, came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the heartbreaking images of people fleeing their homeland.
Upon arriving in Poland, Guas was stationed at a WCK facility in the city of Przemyśl which is only about seven miles from the Ukrainian border. There, he cooked and made biscuits, soup, applesauce cake, and meat to serve to volunteers and refugees crossing the border.
“[We were making] a lot of broths, a lot of soups, and a ton of vegetables,” he says. “Beef stocks, pork stocks, chicken stocks, beef cheeks, beef shoulder, and a lot of chicken. Basically, a soup or broth every single day.”
There was also hot chocolate, served both in the morning and at night.
“Everyone needed a little sugar and a little chocolate,” Guas says.
He admits the work was hard and could be monotonous. For more than two weeks, his days were on repeat with him starting at 7 a.m., working 12 to 14 hours, trying to decompress, and going to bed. Then, he would start it all over again.
There were days when he spent hours defrosting hundreds of pounds of beef cheeks, but Guas knew this is where he needed to be.
“I was there because this is who I am… needing to help,” he says.
There are memories, both good and bad, that will stick with him for a lifetime. Going to the border between Ukraine and Poland was emotional, Guas says, particularly because nearly all of the people he saw crossing were women and children. It was tough to witness families going through all of this while missing their fathers, spouses and sons.
He recounts walking into a large room with 30 to 40 kids, all watching a Disney movie with Polish subtitles. Approaching the two women in charge, he asked if there was anything they needed.
Despite the language barrier, it was soon communicated what they wanted: bubbles.
He drove to a store half a mile away, cleared the shelves of bubbles, and was back in 15 minutes.
“When I opened the bag…” he pauses, clearly emotional from the memory of bringing a bit of joy to kids who truly needed it. “It was a powerful moment.”
Back home and with the war still raging, it’s hard to know what to do next. Guas says he’s going to continue to help, through donations, awareness, and to assist WCK in “whatever capacity is needed.”
For two weeks in Poland, Guas knew his role. Which was to do what he’s alway done.
“I was needed in the kitchen… to just start cooking,” Guas says. “And that’s what I know how to do.”
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