The London-based founders of the restaurants-powered fundraising initiative were among four people from across to world to be named as Champions of Change at this year’s awards, alongside Dieuveil Malonga, chef of Meza Malonga in Kigali, Rwanda and founder of Chefs in Africa; and Koh Seng Choon, social entrepreneur and founder of Dignity Kitchen in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Launched as food fundraising initiative for UNICEF in response to the war in Ukraine, where Hercules was born, #CookForUkraine aims to increase awareness of the humanitarian crisis and raise money to help children and families displaced by the war, as well as providing a platform for Ukrainian families and their supporters to share recipes, along with the stories behind those dishes.
Through the campaign, the duo is collaborating with London restaurants to host special dinners and sell specific menu items to raise funds, which are sent to UNICEF to provide on-the-ground support and emergency care to refugee families. Since its inception, the campaign has raised nearly £900,000.
“From the very start, Cook for Ukraine was a long term project for us. While we hope with all our hearts the war will end soon, our work in raising awareness about the beauty of Ukrainian food culture and in supporting those affected by the war will continue. And this wonderful award is a very important first step towards creating a new foundation,” they say.
Award recipient Dieuveil Malonga is a 30-year-old chef at restaurant Meza Malonga in Kigali, Rwanda. Malonga is also the founder of Chefs in Africa, an online platform that cultivates the talent and culinary passion found in Africa by helping cooks overcome barriers such as lack of training, employment and equipment, as well as discrimination. Chefs in Africa connects government institutions, training centres and businesses with professional chefs and young culinary students or apprentices from across the continent who are looking for work experience. It currently has over 4,000 African chefs as members.
Koh Seng Choon, based between Hong Kong and Singapore, is the founder of Dignity Kitchen, Asia’s first community food court managed by people with disabilities. After studying engineering and business administration in the UK, Seng Choon returned to Singapore to set up his own management consultancy firm. In 2010, at the age of 50, he gave up his successful career to focus on social entrepreneurship and opened the first Dignity Kitchen in Singapore, followed by a Hong Kong location in December 2019.
Dignity Kitchen acts as a school to train the disabled and the disadvantaged to be hawker stall operators. Having pivoted to community service during the pandemic, providing warm food to homeless shelters and nursing homes, as well as food vouchers to minority groups, it offers customers a system to ‘pay it forward’ to give meals to the needy.
“After launching Champions of Change last year, we are thrilled to recognise the incredible work that Dieuveil, Koh Seng, and Olia and Alissa are doing for their communities,” says William Drew, director of content for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. “We have the utmost respect for the drive and passion they’ve shown for creating meaningful change and we’re honoured to be able to support their brilliant work.”
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022 awards, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, take place in London on Monday 18 July at Old Billingsgate market in the City of London.