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PROSTA HISTORIA

The story of Prosta Historia (which literally means a simple story in Polish) is in fact not that simple. The restaurant was founded a few years ago, when simplicity wasn’t as widely appreciated as it is today. Bright interior, simple tables and minimalistic, yet relaxed decor was a pleasant change. White paint on the walls and wooden furniture are now both must-haves for a trendy place, but Prosta Historia had to lead the way of dusted knick-knacks. The size of the menu was another positive surprise: a handful of starters, two soups, salads, pastas and burgers.

The burgers. They served gourmet versions long before burger madness took over Warsaw. Prosta Historia was one of few alternatives to fast-food patties in soggy buns and sad, greasy fries. The trend for local meat suppliers, fresh, seasonal vegetables, freshly baked buns and homemade fries was starting right here. Today we can get a slow food burger on every corner of the city - at least that’s what the burger joints promise on therir omnipresent leaflets and banners. Personally, I feel that I’ve already consumed enough burgers for a lifetime and therefore had forgotten about Prosta Historia.

I don’t run any burger rankings, but having revisited Prosta Historia, I surmise they still serve the best burgers in town. The buns are pure perfection - crispy outside, marvelous softness inside. Delicate turkey meat is complemented by slightly spicy yoghurt sauce with sumac and chili, caramelised red onion and a thick slice of grilled eggplant. The homemade fries are heavenly, definitely the best I’ve had in a while.

I didn’t think I would ever sing the praises of a burger with fries again. To be completely honest, I didn’t think I would ever order a burger with fries again. Food is never a simple story.

Prosta Historia, ul. Francuska 24, Warsaw

burger kitchen

Tomek Woźniak: chef, restaurant owner, culinary adventurer.

We met at his first restaurant, Burger Kitchen in Warsaw.

When did you start cooking?

My culinary adventure has lasted for most of my life. I developed an interest in food around the age of six. New flavours have always held a fascination for me. When at a restaurant with my parents, I would always order at least two times more that I was capable of eating. I wanted to see, smell and taste as many things as possible.

When I was 14, I spent my entire summer holidays working at a restaurant. It was my first job in a kitchen and I was forced to start with the simplest tasks. I will never forget my first day - I had to wash about 80 kg of spinach leaves. It literally took me all day. Next day I had to chop it. It’s a miracle that I don’t hate spinach. Then I was slicing onions, peeling eggs. I was allowed to actually cook something after three weeks: a simple omelette, plain and with no toppings. The most surprising thing was the fact that after a whole day of working with food, I would leave the kitchen hungry. Working at several restaurants gave me an understanding of how to run a restaurant kitchen. Travels, on the other hand, helped me develop my culinary imagination. They are my biggest source of inspiration.

It’s enough for me to see a dish in order to be able to recreate it. I don’t need to taste it - one can determine the taste based on textures, shapes and colours. Flavours are in fact similar to colours. Once we are familiar with primary colours, we can come up with various compositions. Using the basic palette of flavours, we can easily figure out the taste of other ingredients from the same group of flavours. Needless to say, the more products we’ve tasted, the more precisely we can determine the flavours.

Do you have a favourite dish?

The taste has a start in our heads. It’s dependent on circumstances, places, atmosphere, the company we’re with, our frame of mind. If we bring back a piece of fragrant cheese from summer holidays in Sabaudia, it will probably taste completely different when we try it at home. Our expectations towards certain foods are not to be negligible. If we keep imagining the taste of lobster or oysters as something divine, we might be disappointed once we’ve actually tried them. We expect nothing short of an explosion in our mouth and it doesn’t happen. It might be good, delicious, even exquisite, but after all, it’s just food.

There are certain dishes that I am particularly fond of and they are all linked to specific places. In spite of an impressive selection at Borough Market in London, I almost always eat the same thing. It’s a kofta sandwich with double halloumi, fresh mint, apricots and harissa, generously topped with salsa verde. Another food experience that I like to recreate is eating a hot dog from a food truck in front of the National Museum in New York. I’s a delectable hot dog in beer bun with lots of sauerkraut. Or crispy tacos in the streets of Mexico, served on freshly made tortillas with beef, cilantro and chorizo.

We’re sensing that food might be your greatest passion.

For me food is more than passion; it’s a way of living. My second passion is to share the first one with others, which is why I’m happy to be a part of numerous workshops, shows and media projects, eg. with Sony and Piotr i Paweł (a Polish chain of markets). As a matter of fact, I have three passions: food, sport and travels. Cooking is my job, sport and travels are my personal pleasures. Naturally, physical activity gives me power for everyday tasks and travels provide me with inspirations. Discovering new places, cultures and people really does broader our horizons.

My story with sport is in fact quite amusing. I was labelled as the least sporty kid in my class. It is true that I wasn’t particularly fond of physical activity back then, but as I had no interest in soccer - the only sport my PE teacher approved - I was thought to be exceptionally unsporty. I started training mountain biking a few years later, I did 12 000 km each year and was ranked 6th in Poland. Today I do diving, parachuting, yoga. I run on a regular basis, I do marathons and am currently training for the Ironmann (one of the most prestigious triathlon competitions) - I want to combine my passions for biking, running and swimming.

Sport is an important part of my daily routine as it teaches me discipline. I begin each day with a morning training, a glass of water with some lemon juice followed by a cold shower and I’m ready to rule the day. If you don’t think of trainings as the most important meetings during the day, you will probably end up not having time for sports at all.

What about travels?

Travels allow me to discover new cultures and, obviously, new flavours. I travel a lot, both business and pleasure. My next destinations are Los Angeles, Milan, Vienna, Tokio and London. I think travels are essential in both personal and professional development.

Travels made me realise how few things I actually need - with each trip my backpack gets lighter. I see travels as an investment for life and I’m sure it’s a profitable one. No one can ever take away the memories, which is why they are so valuable.

Aren’t you afraid to leave everything and go away?

I think it’s really important to take a break and get some perspective every now and then. When I’m not here, I am simply not here; I am thousands of kilometers away and people have to handle things without me. I have every confidence in my staff. All in all, we only have two hands and even if we are ambidextrous, these are only two hands. There is no chance for progress if we insist on not accepting help from other people. Of course, the outcome won’t be 100% the way we would have done that ourselves, but one just have to learn to live with that.

I put a lot of effort into inspiring and educating my employees. I value passion far more than experience. Where’s there’s will, there’s a way - and it’s almost always possible to a field one has interest in. We work hard, but there’s time to play too. We go bowling together (we even have our unofficial bowling tournament), we visit other restaurants or just stay and cook together after Burger Kitchen is closed. Owing to a friendly atmosphere, the staff can work together as a team, which makes things easy for both us and our customers.

Tell us more about the place.

Burger Kitchen is a 1960s style American diner with strong Parisian bistro influence. Many dishes were inspired by street food I came across during my travels. We serve authentic corn tacos, oriental Hoisin wings and Arabic hummus. I always adapt the original recipes and add some twists of my own.

We want Burger Kitchen to be a place for everyone. We want people to feel relaxed and enjoy our concept. The atmosphere is very casual, no need to suit up to come here. I don’t like ostentation. You won’t find a single tie in my closet.

What kind of food do you serve?

The simple kind. It have an impression that we’ve reached a point where we need lobster paired with sauerkraut or molecular foam to consider a meal satisfactory. I enjoy simple food of high quality.

The most important part is to be aware of what we eat. I follow ‘I know what I eat’ rule. It can be explained in two ways. First of all, it’s all about good quality of ingredients, knowledge of their origin and awareness about how they affect our health. Secondly, ‘I know what I eat’ can be understood as ‘I see what I eat’, which means a simple form - real food for real people.

It’s vital that the word ‘quality’ can be supported by specific details. We know who our meat supplier is, we know their methods to prepare beef, we know where our potatoes grew. We cut the fries ourselves and use a special trans fat-free oils fro frying. We serve gluten-free buns, organic juices imported from Austria and freshly squeezed citrus juices. Our milkshakes are thick, based on original Italian ice cream. Coffee is 100% arabica, a blend prepared especially for Burger Kitchen by our friends from Java Coffee.

Simple food means simple, natural ingredients. Great taste is a result of using great ingredients - we don’t add butter or salt to make the food taste better.

I always keep in mind that I want Burger KItchen to be a place where I can come and eat myself. I dine here few times a week, my employees and our suppliers eat here, my friends drop by to grab a bite.

Why opening a burger place in the middle of a burger boom in Warsaw?

Definitely my favourite question, I get it pretty often… Well, I am not going to try and prove it, but I’ve been working on this concept for three years, I first came up with this idea had this idea a while ago.

Besides, I don’t think you always need to be first. Sometimes it’s even better to be the second or the third one. Personally, I don’t mind competition. It’s stimulating and beneficial for both customers and restaurant owners. If someone delivers great quality everyday, is full of ideas and develops the menu, there’s no reason to be afraid of competitors.

What differentiates us from the others is the fact that we are a restaurant, not a burger joint. Our staff is well-trained, we have a special ventilation system - despite the open kitchen, the smoke is not a problem. I can tell you that we have plans to open a Burger Kitchen food truck - with a regular kitchen, no makeshifts. We always want to keep the highest quality.

Who comes to Burger Kitchen?

Our guests usually find out about Burger Kitchen from their friends. We want to focus on regulars - one-time customers are less important, because they’re not the ones that you win over with quality. Among our guests you will find students, freelancers, young artists, families, people that are active and young (or young at heart), that enjoy life and travel a lot just as we do. We happen to have a lot of foreigners, from Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Norway, Austria or even the South Africa Republic or the Republic of Congo. We are frequently visited by many Warsaw chefs of the younger generation.

We want to create a Burger Kitchen Club for our regular customers. What we have in mind is something between a community and a lifestyle. The club card looks really amazing, you really want to carry it in your wallet! When the card is presented to our staff, they will get access to information about your food preferences and allergies, so that will know to offer you a shake with lactose-free milk. We plan cooking sessions, workshops for kids, new menu tastings - for our members exclusively and free of charge. The card will also give you an access to numerous discounts: at Pure Jatomi gym, Atlantic cinema, French Institute, several sports shops and, in the future, in our other restaurants.

Other restaurants? What are your plans for the future?

My biggest goal is to create the Kitchen group, of which Burger Kitchen will be a part. There are going to be other restaurants as well, but this is all I can reveal right now.

In about two months we are launching our own product line, the Kitchen Shop. We are going to provide quality products, with cool design and reasonable prices. We are going to be sell organic juices that we import from Austria, pumpkin seed oil, granola, our ketchups.

Do you ever fail at anything?

Sure, all the time. The more I do, the more I fail. Nobody likes disappointments, but when we try doing different things, sometimes we fail. It’s important to accept the fact that a defeat is not the end of the world, it’s a natural result of our actions. I know that it’s not that easy though.

I have a similar approach towards a success. While I understand that little triumphs are vital for our happiness and self-esteem, I only allow myself to take one day to celebrate a success. After that day comes another one and it can be either better or worse - it depends on us.

Delicate chorizo omelette with feta, capsicum and cilantro - definitely not a failure. I would call the House Burger (100% beef, a slice of Mimolette, Calabrian salami, onion confit, tomato, lettuce) a definite success as well. Everything I ate here is worth at least one day of giddy celebration.

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