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Benefit dinner at Uni raises $1 million for World Central Kitchen’s Ukraine efforts

Chef José Andrés and volunteers from World Central Kitchen serve hot food to Ukrainian families that crossed into Poland on Feb. 27.World Central Kitchen

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine on late Feb. 24, Boston chef Ken Oringer was eager to join the nonprofit World Central Kitchen on the frontlines to provide food to Ukrainians staying in the country, as well as refugees.

But with a new restaurant opening in less than a month and two kids at home, Oringer decided to find a way to help the organization — helmed by celebrity chef José Andrés — closer to home. On April 10, Oringer teamed up with chef Ming Tsai to host a fundraiser for World Central Kitchen at Uni, the Asian restaurant Oringer runs inside of the Eliot Hotel in Back Bay.

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The benefit dinner, attended by the likes of Governor Charlie Baker and former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, raised $1 million for World Central Kitchen, which has distributed nearly 10 million meals in response to the invasion.

“I wanted to raise an insane amount of money, because the situation is beyond what anyone could believe over there,” said Oringer, a longtime friend of Andrés, in a phone call with the Globe.

Within a few days of getting the word out about the benefit dinner, 67 seats were sold at $5,000 a head, and a long waiting list sprung up, Oringer said. The day of the dinner, Oringer added, they had already raised close to half a million dollars.

At the event, venture capitalist and documentary producer David Fialkow and his wife, documentary producer Nina Fialkow, both of whom helped to organize the fundraiser, helped to take the evening up a notch.

“David Fialkow basically said at that time, ‘This is the night to go big,’” Oringer recalled. “Then he and another client, a guest, decided to match the donation, and their families put in $250,000 each to make it an even million.”

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“This all happened before we even served the first course of the dinner,” Oringer continued. “It was just a really incredibly powerful experience.”

All the food for the dinner was donated, Oringer said, and the courses were made by a medley of chefs.

Joby Norton, the half-Ukrainian owner of Mullaney’s Harborside Fish Market in Scituate and Cohasset, whipped up oysters with Ossetra caviar as an hors d’oeuvres. Uni’s sushi chef, Tsuyoshi Takeishi, prepared a sampler of nigiri and sushi, and tuna tataki with foie gras was also served. Jeremy Sewall of Row 34 cooked up a lobster ravioli with short rib and smoked sea urchin, and Ming Tsai made a miso Chilean sea bass. David Bazirgan, the executive chef at Uni, made a crab butter fried rice. On tap for dessert was a blood orange crémeux with chocolate and hazelnut praline.

Founded in 2010, World Central Kitchen provides meals to people living in areas experiencing a humanitarian or climate-related crisis. In 2019, when the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, Oringer — who also runs Little Donkey, Toro, and, soon, Faccia Brutta with his business partner, Jamie Bissonnette — traveled to the country with World Central Kitchen for four days to help feed those in need.

Oringer, a James Beard-Award winning chef, said he has known Andrés for more than two decades. After the event, Andrés sent Oringer and the other organizers a thank-you video.

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“I know because [of] what you did, many other people are going to have a plate of food, sometimes for [the] first time in 30 or 40 days,” said Andrés in the video, which was shared with the Globe. “We will be there because you were there for us.”

Oringer, for his part, said he was blown away by the level of philanthropy he witnessed.

“I think that’s what made the dinner so successful, is because all these people had similar feelings as to me — that they wanted to help but they didn’t know how to help,” he said. “We have such an incredible city of givers, that everybody was ready to jump on and be excited to help.”


Dana Gerber can be reached at dana.gerber@globe.com