If a ranking was made of the most characteristic Polish chefs, Bogdan Gałązka from the Gothic Cafe in Malbork's Teutonic Castle would probably find himself in the top three.
As the best Polish female chef, Agata Wojda, noted:
To stand face to face with master Gałązka, one has to pass two pumpkins, one gate, a sign warning we found ourselves in a lard-free zone, and one must not be afraid of four dogs at night.
There’s a reason – Gałązka is an enemy of associating Polish cuisine with this speciality made out of melted pork fat, offered to foreigners ad nauseam on a slice of bread with a gherkin.
He decided to be a chef as an adult. He liked cooking as a child, but since the profession was not very prestigious in the 1980s, he ended up graduating in theology and then in human resources from the best Polish business school. After a few years in a corporation, he left his job and went to New York, where he graduated from the Culinary Academy of New York.
Gałązka’s adventure with Malbork's kitchen lasted less than ten years, but in that time he completely revolutionized it. A visit to the Gothic Café should be the icing on the cake of a stay in the castle. Through the menu, service and music, Gałązka references the times of the stronghold’s greatness. His menu is dominated by dishes inspired by old regional recipes, and books such as Königsberger Kochbuch – a cookbook from Königsberg from the 15th century. In the Gothic Café he serves dishes such as Königsberg pork and beef meatballs with capers and anchovies, with lemon sauce sweetened by raisins. He dusted off the shopping registers of the Teutonic Order from the years 1399-1409, enabling the wider public to get to know ingredients from the medieval kitchen. His pesto made out of green rye, based on a 400-year old recipe, is also famous. In his menu green hen can be found as well – coated in parsley, carrot and elderflower vinegar. Chef Gałązka doesn’t use methods like sous vide or thermomix; everything is made by hand, even saffron ice-cream, based on an old recipe. Gałązka offers the best Polish regional cheeses as well. Obviously, he doesn’t buy his herbs, but grows them in a special garden, as well as wild strawberries.
Bogdan Gałązka is not only a charismatic personality, but also an enthusiastic traveller. Out of season, when the restaurant is closed (from mid-December until April), he packs his bags and goes for a few months to Mexico, USA, Iran or Malaysia. Not only to take a breather but also to graduate from new workshops and search for inspiration.
Chef Gałązka believes himself to be a happy cook and a happy man. Not long ago he started realizing another crazy idea – in a trademark bag he delivers his legendary crepes with cottage cheese and raspberry sauce from the restaurant kitchen to the Pendolino train that, on the road from Warsaw to Gdańsk, stops in Malbork. Even if it’s very early, all you have to do is the restaurant to receive a fresh portion. Gałązka also wrote three cookbooks dedicated to historical cuisine, which were published in Polish and English.
Magdalena Kasprzyk-Chevriaux, translated by N. Mętrak-Ruda, October 2015
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