In 2016, the culinary guide Gault&Millau dubbed Justyna Słupska-Kartaczowska the Female Chef of the Year. Słupska-Kartaczowska has also recently become co-owner of the jaDka restaurant in Wrocław’s Old City area. She approaches Polish cuisine in a modern way – based on local products and inspired by recipes from the oldest culinary books.
A late start
She drifted into gastronomy relatively late in life – she began her adventure with professional cuisine only after turning thirty. Before that she studied art history, as well as film and theatre make-up in Paris, while earning some extra money by working in Parisian bars and restaurants. After returning to Poland, she worked as a make-up artist, but it did not give her satisfaction. At that time her contact with cuisine was limited to cooking dishes inspired by French classics for her next of kin. Overnight, being a mature woman with a family, she decided that she wanted to make it in gastronomy. She worked in different restaurants in Wrocław and was a chef at Qubus Hotel’s restaurant in Wałbrzych. It was an important stage of her career, because she learned to manage people and co-workers. After that she cooked in almost all the restaurants led by the Kręglicki family in Warsaw.
The school of life in La Palme d’Or 2* in Cannes
After gaining enough experience, she ended up in Cannes for two years, working in the starred La Palme restaurant in the Martinez Hotel. She remembers her time there as a school of life: strenuous legwork for a dozen or so hours, a permanent lack of sleep, stress, screams, and cooks being treated as objects. Age was an additional difficulty: she was much older than the other cooks and it was more difficult for her to rise up to the workplace’s physical challenges. After returning to Poland, she understood that this experience taught her humility and iron discipline: work organisation in the kitchen, hierarchy and systems, planning and cleaning. Today, asked whether she teaches young chefs to cook, she stresses the point that as a perfectionist she starts with teaching them how to clean. Sometimes it takes half a year. After returning from France, she worked in the Monopol Hotel in Wrocław among other places. She was the chef in both of the hotel’s restaurants – Acquario and Monopol. At that time she was strongly inspired by fine-dining French-style cuisine and products associated with it, such as foie gras, scallops, oysters, and truffles.
In jaDka, Słupska-Kartaczowska focuses on Polish cuisine rooted in old traditions and based on local products, but in a modern form. She was inspired by the oldest culinary books, such as Stanisław Czarniecki’s Compendium Ferculorum and Wojciech Wielądski’s Kucharz Doskonały (editor’s translation: The Perfect Cook), both issued by the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów; but also other old Polish culinary books. The more she reads about Polish cuisine, the more surprised she is by its richness and diversity. Most recently, she is fascinated by the old cuisine of her familiar Wrocław and hopes that thanks to working together with Professor Grzegorz Sobel and inspiration from Marek Krajewski’s crime stories, the experiments with Wrocław culinary recipes will succeed.
Her cuisine is characteristic: cabbage filled with several vegetable mousses, served with mangalica and smoked carp with kale, cucumbers, pickle juice and buttermilk are just two dishes to illustrate the point. The recipes are light, delicate, and colourful. In summer, the whole plate may be green, because Słupska-Kartaczowska has a weakness for vegetables of this colour. Her penchant for colours changes with the seasons. In autumn, the idea of a pork fillet surrounded by red and yellow vegetables crosses her mind, while the desserts are purple. In her cuisine there must also be a place for giblets: tripes with spicy blood sausage and marjoram and tongue with beetroot, sea kale, beet, and hibiscus, for example. Each dish served at jaDka has to be a ‘signature dish’ – this is why she recently shortened the menu. She says that there is no giving up in the kitchen and the dishes must be possible to recreate.
Słupska-Kartaczowska tries to buy her products at local and small vendors, especially those from the Lower Silesia region: starting with the world-class cheeses from Wańczykówka and carp from Mościbrody, through cold cuts from Nowicki Naturalnie, vegetables, poultry, cold-pressed oils, flour, and meat. Instead of Parmesan cheese, she prefers to use dry cottage cheese from the Podlasie region about which Adam Mickiewicz wrote in Pan Tadeusz. She has to have wines from the Lower Silesia’s vineyards on her wine list, such as the ones from the Jakubów Vineyard. She is a perfectionist and expects the same from her subordinates. One could say that Justyna Słupska-Kartaczowska is the Polish Anne-Sophie Pic.
Originally written in Polish by Magdalena Kasprzyk-Chevriaux, Nov 2017, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Nov 2017