The worldwide evolution, or even revolution, of contemporary cooking didn’t skip Polish cuisine. What are the looks, flavours, and surprises of contemporary cooking from Poland?
An array of talented chefs are after the answer to these questions, as they draw upon their experience from abroad, mingling modern cooking techniques with elements of Polish nature and the country's complex history, as well as the diversity of regional traditions. Familiar with the newest trends, these chefs create contemporary, and, at times, even futuristic dishes, but also give new life to the long-forgotten recipes and ingredients of the past.
Wojciech Modest Amaro declares
"This new kind of Polish cuisine may not become widely popular, but it will thrill the palettes of a growing number of food connoisseurs," according to renowned chef Wojciech Modest Amaro.
Adam Chrząstowski, another outstanding Polish chef, declares that 'new Polish cuisine is a cuisine that has been adapted to the technological conditions of our times. The problem is that Polish cuisine has not yet been really properly formed.'
In search of flavours
Chefs always appreciate great quality, and often – "forgotten goods". For some time now, the trend for field expeditions in search of these new tastes has been growing, with trips to wild meadows, lakes, forests, and the sea. Nature and old cookbooks are the inspirational stuff from which the dreams of contemporary cooking are made. Two years ago, the wild nature and produce of the Suwałki region attracted a dozen prominent chefs from across the globe. As part of the internationally renowned Cook It Raw project, under the guidance of W. M. Amaro, the chefs set off to explore the lakes and forests of the region, and the tastes of its game, fish, herbs, forest fruit, cheeses and nalewki. The Suwałki region – located in the north-east, near the present-day border with Lithuania – is filled with not only the culinary traditions of Poles, but also those of Lithuanians, Belarusians, Jews, and Tatars.
In the introduction to Polish Cuisine of the 21st Century, Amaro underscores this multi-cultural aspect of historical Poland, and he defends the thesis that 'Polishness' should not "be limited to the circle of a plate of schabowy and cabbage". In his opinion, this would mean "renouncing our tradition and the satanic, totalitarian idea of Polishness being limited to the richness of the past, homogeneous, filled with angst towards what is different, and barring itself from life. (…) This is why anyone claiming Polish cuisine is just as European, Italian, French, Armenian, Jewish or Byzantine is right, because it was on the terrain of the old Republic that this unique mix was created, one which contemporary Poles have both the privilege and duty to enjoy".
The dynamic development of the gastronomic market in Warsaw has begun to be similar to those of the Western metropoles, and the growingly demanding customers are raising the bar for anyone in business in the Polish capital.
Atelier Amaro, which opened in 2013, received its Michelin star a year later. The atelier’s cuisine is based on new culinary technologies which Poles won't know from their old experiences of diners, home cooking, and traditional restaurants. This is an original kind of cuisine, created by an international team of chefs, and one in which science meets nature. The menu is composed in accordance with the seasons, following an individually adapted calendar. Out of care for the quality of the ingredients, the restaurant runs a farm of its own. Amaro recommends various traditional Polish alcohols to accompany his dishes – honey liquors, high quality vodka, and nalewki. In search of the best flavour compositions, Amaro frequently changes the ingredients’ structure, and also likes to reverse their ordinary roles and functions. He experiments with Polish classics while reminding us of forgotten ingredients, the names of which can be traced in old Polish cookbooks.
Contemporary Polish cuisine has many faces, and Amaro’s kitchen is just one of them. Robert Trzópek, the former chef of the award-winning Tamka 43 restaurant, and now a chef at the Intercontinental Holiday Inn Warsaw-Józefów, also combines tradition with a contemporary approach, and continues to draw from forgotten traditions and foods that fell into oblivion. Trzópek’s version of 21st century Polish cuisine thrills no less than the famous national cuisines of other countries. And here, even the classics are served in a modern fashion.
Witek Iwański, who runs the Aruana restaurant, offers a menu based on regional and seasonal products of the highest quality. His speciality is contemporary Polish cuisine – traditional taste delivered in new, intriguing forms. In his kitchen, old recipes come to life thanks to modern culinary techniques. Iwański reaches for new and unknown ingredients, and he proposes surprising flavour combinations. Each of his dishes is the outcome of his attentive observation of the newest trends in cooking worldwide.
Paweł Oszczyk is also one to add an innovative tone to Polish food. Very well acquainted with the realities of Poland, the chef of Warsaw’s La Rotisserie – located in Mamaison Hotel Le Regina – presents his guests with his own culinary style, a unique blend of French and Polish cuisine. Oszczyk’s dishes are famous for their excellent composition, which is never overly-contrived. The creation of each new menu in Oszczyk’s kitchen is the result of a brainstorming session.
On the opposite side of Warsaw’s gastronomic spectrum, we can find Aleksander Baron. His Solec 44 restaurant is located across the road from a hospital on Solec street, in the riverside Powiśle district of the capital. The little building that houses it looks like a former socialist food store. When crossing its threshold, one feels as if entering a school's common room. Baron’s cuisine, which has stirred some controversy, employs unique ingredients manufactured by local producers. During a press lunch organised by the Polish Institute in Paris as part of the Fete de la Gastronomie, Baron served lamprey, bison meat from controlled hunts, and "nadtwaróg", a special kind of creamy white cheese, which he served with honeycomb and advised for the guests to consume… by hand.
In Solec, Baron sticks to Polish cuisine, but – as he himself underscores – Polish cuisine is multicultural, and this provides great possibilities for invention. Thus, he serves sweetbreads in caramel sauce, bull’s testicles and snail roe, home-made syrups with the forgotten sea-buckthorn and oak bark, as well as noodles with goat milk halva (an excellent cheese made by a Sokołowski family near Jelenia Góra in the south-west of Poland).
For a few years now, the Kraków-based Ancora has been recognised at the highest European level for its contemporary take on Polish cuisine. The kitchen uses the local ingredients of the Małopolska region. It serves Polish tapas, which are mouth-watering snacks such as goatsmilk bryndza cheese with marinated beetroot, white bean mousse with rye chips, and celery salad with Lisiecka sausage. Following Adam Chrząstowski, Mateusz Turaj has taken over as the restaurant’s chef.
Chrząstowski, who transferred to the Ed Red steak house, has meanwhile been delving into the secrets of Polish dry-aged beef, and this is now his main area of interest. He also reintroduced offal and other overlooked cuts of meat: brains, sweetbread, tongue, cheeks, marrow bones and even fries made from pig ear. Chrząstowski comments on his blog:
In a Socratic manner, I can say that the more I get to know Polish cuisine, which I'm devoted to, the more I become aware of the fact that I know very little, and that there is a long road ahead of me. But I am also aware that this is a solid direction, and not a flailing back and forth between a hamburger and a frankfurter, a frankfurter and sushi, sushi and pasta or pizza.
Tricity (Gdańsk, Sopot, Gdynia)
The Gdańsk-based Metamorfoza restaurant (ran, up until recently, by Łukasz Toczek) serves Polish dishes based on products typical of the Pomerania region. The kitchen also uses produce from its own ecological farm. Metamorfoza’s dishes are a combination of old-fashioned Gdańsk cuisine and contemporary trends. The venue itself is also known for hosting various culinary events. As part of the Gotujemy Pronature (Let’s Cook Pronature) programme, Polish chefs from across the country were invited to discover regional products and ingredients, cook in the outdoors, and prepare dishes from local fish (also including the usually overlooked kind of species), both from the Kaszuby lake region and the Baltic sea.
Artur Moroz heads the Bulaj restaurant in Sopot, where he moved from the capital. Moroz offers a variety of innovative interpretations of the traditional, especially around the holiday season. For the Christmas period, for example, he offered carp served sous-vide with red cabbage, gingerbread icecream, and borscht with fish dumplings with melted butter stuffing. "One day, I would like to open a restaurant with a gourmet food store, and be able to concentrate on the best regional products with their age-old tradition”, Moroz declares.
A little bit further south, in the picturesque and historic town of Malbork (once home to the Medieval knights of the Teutonic order) the famous cook Bogdan Gałązka presents something rather unique – dishes inspired by convent food. Gałązka heads the Gothic Cafe restaurant, which is located with the Teutonic Knights’ castle.
A place worth visiting in the mid-western city of Toruń is the Sfera restaurant by hotel Copernicus. Guests can enjoy the culinary innovations of its chef, Sebastian Krauzowicz.
There are, of course, plenty more promising restaurants which serve contemporary versions of local tradition across Poland.