For the second year in a row, the Polish Institute in Paris has organized an event promoting culinary heritage of Poland. It is positive that public institutions in charge of the promotion of Polish culture have finally embraced cooking and cuisine. Just a few years ago it was not so evident – if we are particularly aware that promoting Polish cuisine abroad is a logistically complex and costly undertaking. In 2013, acclaimed chef Aleksander Baron was cooking for the guests of the Institute and Professor Jarosław Dumanowski was telling stories about the cuisine of Poland.This year, the Institute and the Polish Tourist Organization focused on the culinary face of Lesser Poland (Małopolska) region. Both institutions invited Kraków chef Adam Chrząstowski who, after he had parted with Ancora restaurant, runs the kitchen at Ed Red, a restaurant specializing in dishes based on aged quality beef. Mr. Chrząstowski also is a widely respected expert on Lesser Poland local cuisine (even if he originally comes from Warsaw). I had the pleasure of coordinating the entire event.
Why Lesser Poland ? According to Adam Chrząstowski, our region is one of the leaders of the revolution in Polish gastronomy and Kraków goes second (after Warsaw) as the largest restaurant center. “… Factors like the commitment to traditions, masses of tourists interested in Polish cuisine and – what’s quite important –access to unique products, make Lesser Poland a significant culinary destination. What’s more, here we enjoy the largest number of regional and traditional products, all marked and registered within the European system of Three Signs of Taste (…) that the people of Lesser Poland may be proud of and create their culinary culture…” – states Ed Red chef in his introduction to the brochure published for the Parisian occasion.It is easy to understand then why the cargo of certified products from Lesser Poland flew over to the French capital: suska sechlońska (lightly dried and smoked plums – prunes from the Suski neighbourhood), apples of Łącko, famous oscypek (smoked sheep mountain cheese), Piękny Jaś broad beans from the Dunajec River Valley as well as our other culinary gems like oats-fed geese, deer, honeys of Drahim, trout caviar from Ojców, rapeseed oil from St. Lawrence’s Mountain and cider from “Koziarnia” farm run by the Lorek family nearby Szczyrzyc.
The event lasted for two days. The first day included a press luncheon and a dinner, which took place at Table Ronde, a supper club in the city district of Le Marais. Table Ronde offers a special restaurant space, ready for chefs’ interaction with the guests. Indeed, the cooks have a separate kitchen at their disposal but the final crowning of the dishes takes place in front of the public and at the same time chefs answer questions posed by the guests. There we hosted journalists from French media, among them from Les Echos, Lui, L’Express, Coté Est, Le Parisien, Le Magazine du Monde, Maxi Cuisine, Elle, Zeste, Bec Sucré Parigot. TV crews also appeared.
What was on the menu? Revisited dishes referring to Polish classics. For the apéritif, the guests had a chance of tasting an exceptional cider of the Lorek family. However, it was not an apple cider in its pure form because it was transformed into a… cinnamon granita. This moment created a perfect occasion for Chef Adam to present Poland as the kingdom of apples, to stress our rapidly growing consumption of cider as well as big Polish comeback to the home-made liquors, meads and beers brewed in local microbreweries.What Polish cuisine would be worth without freshwater fish and crayfish? No wonder then that smoked sturgeon was served as a cold appetizer, supplemented and garnished by trout caviar, organic sour cream, apples from Łącko, radishes and beets.
When it comes to a Polish meal, soup is a must. The chef’s selection was a reduced crayfish consommé à la polonaise. Why à la polonaise? According to the “Larousse Gastronomique”, this culinary style means finishing the dish with a finely chopped hard-boiled egg. As you may guess, crayfish essence was served with the egg. Chef Adam himself poured this delicate soup onto the plates. When doing this, he was advising guests on how traditional methods of processing and preserving products, such as smoking, succeeded to last in Poland. He further detailed how Poles are rebuilding cheese production on farms. Innovative restaurants offering new Polish cuisine focus on top quality local produce.
As a warm hors d’œuvre, the guests had pierogi (Polish style dumplings). Yes, I know, some chefs are openly willing not to have anything in common with the traditional and obscure pierogi. Is it OK ? Not necessarily. Pierogi are one of a very few identifiable Polish dishes worldwide. It’s true that our bad memories from the postwar communist period associate pierogi with cheap “milk eateries” (bary mleczne), with homespun and greasy cooking.But – in my humble opinion – wouldn’t it be more proper and useful to elevate pierogi up to the high shelve of culinary art serving them in a new amazing styles rather than to disgrace this integral part of the national culinary heritage?After all, Paul Bocuse, the legend of French gastronomy, the owner of three Michelin stars since 1965, whose domain is classic – or more accurately – traditional French cuisine, would never feel offended by the snails bourguignon or by cassoulet. Our Paris guests were truly delighted eating pierogi stuffed with Polish oats-fed goose confit; my ears were watchfully catching what they had been saying. Even more, they totally accepted peculiar combination of flavors of the sides accompanying pierogi on the plate: shaved oscypek sheep cheese, suska sechlońska prunes, broad beans from the Dunajec Valley.
The main course provoked similar culinary palate impressions: loin of wild Polish deer in Drahim honey and juniper sauce with treated buckwheat and chanterelle mushrooms.
During luncheon, the chef instructed the journalists about the difficult and unknown aspects of the history of Polish cooking. In particular, he said that after World War One “a rich culinary tradition managed to survive, and, before World War Two, Polish restaurants cooking was of a solid European quality. However, the postwar regime destroyed gentry and aristocracy traditions, and moreover ruined culinary culture and reduced food to the role of carrier of calories for the peasant and the physical worker”.“Lesser-Polish” lunch was concluded with a Kraków cheesecake, however with its delicate version, adapted to the refined Parisian palate. This was a “steamed” cheesecake, naturally prepared out of twaróg (dry cottage cheese) which is so peculiar of Polish cuisine. Words of appreciation were spoken loud!
The second day of the feast was devoted to a cooking workshop. At Atelier des Sens, a professional culinary studio adjacent to Centre Pompidou, participants took lessons of Polish flavors. They prepared a trout sausage with dill and mustard. In addition, they concocted a delicate potato purée and chanterelles.
It was really nice to see how much fun they had preparing pierogi stuffed with an opulent filling of crayfish and perch-pike.
At the end, they fried duck breasts, worked on Polish kopytka dumplings (gnocchi-like) which they served with the duck in a company of suska sechlońska prunes. Empty plates spoke for themselves, the participants demanded seconds and kept asking whether this kind of Polish cuisine workshops would continue on a regular basis. Some would even secretly hide a chunk of oscypek cheese before leaving! The guests were eating and Adam the Chef continued telling stories about the recent significant rise of interest of the Polish people in cooking, about Poles’ comeback to the culinary world. There is an enormous interest with local food and products, Poles do appreciate now what geographically is dear to them.
Thanks to the support of the Polish Tourist Organization as well as the Kraków City Hall Office which both sponsored a trip to Poland for two persons, one of the Paris workshop participants will soon visit Kraków. All of our guests also received culinary gifts of Lesser Poland products: apples of Łącko, slivovitz, suska sechlońska prunes, redykołka sheep cheese as well as special publications on the occasion.