Ukrainian chef dreams of Michelin star, but happy to feed the troops

By Anna Voitenko

(Reuters) - Serhiy graduated from a culinary school in central Ukraine and dreams of working in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

But for now, with his country locked in a war against Russia, he is only too happy to feed the troops as an army cook.

"The frontline is just over there," he says in the simple kitchen where he produces varied, home-cooked meals. "So it is a shame not to cook good food here."

The Dnipropetrovsk region is, as he acknowledges, a world away from the top city restaurants in Ukraine and Poland where he once worked.

"Cooking over an open fire at the makeshift kitchen and at the restaurant are two entirely different worlds, two different levels of cooking," says Serhiy, pausing thoughtfully as he packs meals into containers for the troops.

"It was very difficult in the very beginning, but that's all right. At the time passes, we develop and move forward."

Considerable thought goes into meal planning. He has lots of mouths to feed.

"We have oregano, basil – green and violet. We also have spices for meat," he said. "So I add them to make the food taste better, and people will have at least some variety of food."

As a father of three, Serhiy was exempt from serving in the army, but volunteered, keeping alive a family tradition; his father served in the Soviet army in Afghanistan and his grandfather fought in World War Two.

The troops say they are impressed with the kitchen.

"Magicians work here. One used to work at the restaurant for nine years, another one worked for 10 years," said one soldier, grinning. "How could you not like it? Try it yourself and you'll see. It's so delicious."

(Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Alison Williams)