Simplicity, seasonality, and using the best products and natural taste combinations – these are the hallmarks of the great Polish chef Agata Wojda.
A musicologist and violinist by education and one of the best chefs in Warsaw.
She studied to be a musicologist and violinist. After she graduated, she started cooking professionally. For a few years she has been successfully in charge of the Opasły Tom PiW restaurant, which belongs to the Kręgliccy family. Since it was opened in the former bookstore of the National Editing Institute, there are books as well as food. A few decades ago it was a literary café, visited by famous Polish artists such as Antoni Słonimski and Gustaw Holoubek.
Before she started working at Opasły Tom, Wojda worked at Absynt restaurant for eight years (where she received the Bib Gourmand honourable mention in the Michelin guide four times). In 2015, she was called the best female chef in Poland by the Polish edition of Gault & Millau. But Agata doesn't like to hear she's the best. As she states, guests have different expectations and she doesn't want to disappoint anybody. She often represents Polish cuisine abroad – she is, for example, invited to Israel to talk about Polish flavours, give culinary shows and teach local chefs. She's also a respected food writer.
There were no indications that Agata Wojda would dedicate her life to the culinary arts. As a girl she studied violin. She attended two schools at the same time, which taught her regularity and work organisation. Her first kitchen adventures? As many children in the PRL she had to come home from school by herself and cook omelettes and chips when her parents were still at work. Finally, she learned how to make a proper dinner.
She studied musicology, but wasn't convinced it's the right choice. When she graduated, she worked as a music teacher for some time, but still searched for her real passion. She found it while travelling. One day she went to Spain with her partner to bring a catamaran to South Africa. She was supposed to cook on the ship.
'The journey didn't happen, but I understood that one could do other interesting things in life, apart from music. There were many job offers for cooks in Spanish ports. I wanted to try. But I am very sensible, so I returned to Warsaw to prepare for the profession of ship cook. I looked for a restaurant job to learn and gain some experience,' as she said in an interview. As it turned out, she didn't go on any trips, because her boyfriend left her. Fortunately, what she had left was a restaurant job.
Flavour is most important thing for Wojda, culinary experiments are not that significant. Even though she uses sous vide (it helps organize the time in a restaurant kitchen), traditional ways of cooking and a normal pan haven't disappeared from her kitchen. She doesn't want to eat worms and has no need to experiment in that direction. She prefers to study the cuisines of Hungary, Austria or the UK. Discovering the cuisine of Polish Jews in Israel, who pass recipes from generation to generation, was an important experience.
She always underlines how important women are for the culinary world:
Girls who have a calling to become chefs are great. They are often famous chef's right and left hand. The main difference between a man and a woman in the kitchen is that a woman is able to think about 19 things at the same time.
She believes female cooking is different: women think differently, are more orderly and their food is more cohesive and safe.
Agata Wojda doesn't dream of her own restaurant. Watching guests from Opasły Tom's kitchen gives her great pleasure. Many of them come back for duck in the winter, nettle pierogi in spring, and pumpkin soup in the autumn. Old and young customers alike come to Opasły Tom, some of them have thick wallets, but for others dining here is quite an event. Wojda is glad when older guests organize family dinners at her restaurant – Wojda's cuisine is something new for them, but stays in their comfort zone. Foreigners who visit her say that's her food is what they wanted to eat in Poland.
She would be happy if regional products were used well in Polish cuisine. She likes innovative ideas but also respecting the product. Great regional cuisine is for her an effective way of preserving national identity.