Perhaps you already have your favourite place for a cup of coffee and some freshly baked pastry in Warsaw. Perhaps you are still looking for one.
Perhaps it will be a new French bistro-cafe called Być Może (meaning 'perhaps' in Polish), which popped up a few months ago in a historical townhouse on plac Unii Lubelskiej. The building is famous for having held the first MPIK, Klub Międzynarodowej Prasy i Książki (International Book and Press Club) - opened a few years after the World War II, providing Warsaw citizens with rare books and music, foreign language press and freshly brewed coffee.
If you are, like ourselves, huge enthusiasts of bread, you have found the right place. You can enjoy freshly bake baguettes, all shapes and flavours of wheat bread, rye bread, nut bread, gluten-free bread, as well as hand-made croissants, tarts and all sorts of sweet treats. If you're trying to stay away from bread, you can go for the lunch offer - freshly prepared from local ingredients on a daily basis. If you still don't feel convinced, we have one last argument. Wine! Lots of wine. From Italy, France, Spain. Perhaps you're more convinced now?
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.
With each visit we fall in love with Kaskrut all over again. The entire menu changes every week and no dish is ever repeated. We want our guests to forget the dish they enjoyed before and be mesmerised with the one we’ve just served them explains Kaskrut’s owner, Dhafer.
Strolling down Poznańska Street last March, Dhafer had no plans of opening a restaurant in Warsaw. Nevertheless, a restaurant space for lease caught his attention. He had experience with running his own place in London and a clear concept for a restaurant of his dreams. It was love that brought Dhafer to Poland. With his Polish wife he had used to live in Paris and London, but after their son was born, they’ve decided to move to Warsaw. I wanted to open a place that offers creative food of high quality at affordable prices. Kaskrut is not a fine dining restaurant for special occasions, but a place where you can drop by for a casual meal in the middle of the week.
The best word to describe the food we serve would be ‘international’. We use local ingredients, we draw inspiration from Polish culinary tradition, but there are plenty of other influences: French, Japanese, North African - my parents are originally Tunisian, they moved to Paris in the 60’s. We don’t experiment with cooking methods, we stick to the basic ones. What makes our food unique is the balance between flavours. We often pair products that seemingly don’t go together. The juxtapositions of flavours tends to be truly daring. It doesn’t only come down to putting fish and meat together in one dish or creating vegetable-based desserts. It’s sauerkraut paired up with raw prawns.
Our menu changes weekly, which is challenging. We have to make our guests forget the dish they had before and fall in love with the one we’ve just served them. Judging from a fairly large group of regular customers, most of first dates are successful. But love doesn’t always work out. Some people are bothered by the smells and noises from our open kitchen, some are upset that the dessert they enjoyed is no longer on the menu. Kaskrut is based on a certain concept. We’re not saying that we run a restaurant the best possible way, but we do it our way.
If there’s a taste equivalent of perfect pitch, Adam Leszczyński definitely has it. Kaskrut’s head chef is gifted with the absolute sense of taste. He often doesn’t try his dishes, as he already knows how the flavours combine.
Adam took his first cooking steps as a teenager, helping his mother in the kitchen. When he had to choose between art school and culinary school, he decided to combine both passions. He completed a culinary school, but keeps making great use of the artistic sense in all his food creations. Despite his young age, Adam has a long list of restaurants he used to work in. The rumour has it that I switch jobs quite often. I don’t like stagnation, I need to move forward. Now he plans to stay longer. I like it here, I enjoy making creative food.
Each week Adam creates the entire menu on his own. His culinary imagination has no limits, but the budget does. We want to keep the prices low. If we are to charge less than 30 zloty for a dish, the ingredients need to stay within a certain price range. This is why we had to exclude some products - you will never eat rack of lamb here, for example. In order not to restrain Adam’s creativity too much, Dhafer introduced one dish at a slightly higher price, prepared with more expensive type of meat or fish.
Casse-croûte means a sandwich or a small snack. The original French spelling was polonized - not only to prevent potential difficulties with pronunciation. We want to highlight our admiration for Polish culinary tradition. Our plan is to serve more Polish classics, modified in our way of course.
From the menu at Tel-Aviv Café in Warsaw: Breakfast from the morning till the evening. Why not?
The question is rhetorical, but let’s give it a thought. What could possibly be a reasonable justification for denying a plate of scrambled eggs to a hungry man? Breakfast liberality suits Tel-Aviv’s relaxed atmosphere really well. One can come here with a dog, one can come here alone and one can order from breakfast menu at dinner time.
No scrambled eggs though - Tel-Aviv’s menu is fully vegan. The dishes, based upon Israeli cuisine, are full of fresh vegetables and aromatic spices. Hearty soups, vegan sandwiches and seasonal salads for lunch, authentic hummus and other flavorful spreads to share over a bottle of Kosher wine. For breakfast? Soy shwarma served with hummus, harissa and pita bread (gluten-free option available), freshly squeezed citrus juice and Arabic coffee - brewed in pots with spices.
Kuba Korczak: chef, artist and culinary adventurer. Founder of an educational project food for friends and annual food festival Good Food Fest.
Head chef at Norma in Warsaw.
How would you describe yourself?
I am passionate about new, intriguing flavours and regional food preparation traditions. I constantly discover new tastes and put them together with the ones I’m familiar with. There are many products that have been forgotten and that deserve a culinary tribute.
Is there any food that don’t like?
Sure, there are products that I’m not particularly fond of: capers, anchovies, olives. I don’t like monotonous tastes. Too salty, too sour, too pungent. I do enjoy intense flavours, but they call for harmony. More often than not these products are used improperly - they dominate over the whole dish. Of course, one could use anchovies to release the umami taste in a meat dish, but I definitely wouldn’t enjoy a whole bowl of pasta topped with anchovy fillets.
My taste has changed over the years. Every few years I go back to products that didn’t work for me before. Who knows, maybe I will be a fanatic fan of olives in 10 years. I don’t really hate olives though. I do appreciate certain types, but I am extremely picky when it comes to olives - probably because I used to live in Greece.
What can we find in Norma’s menu?
Norma’s menu reflects my culinary research of the past few years. I wanted to compose a harmonic mixture of unique products and create complex dishes. It’s a manifesto of my culinary philosophy: local, seasonal, Slow Food. The menu is going to change every season.
Do you think Norma is a place for anyone?
We think of Norma as a place where people come with their friends or families, discover new flavours and spend nice evenings wining and dining. Sometimes people randomly walk in, take a glance at the menu and say: No ham hock, no schabowy (pork breaded cutlet, similar to Viennese schnitzel), we’re out of here!
But sometimes we break stereotypes and prejudices - and this is the part I enjoy the most. I would personally love to be served an anchovy sorbet that I could fall in love with. People tend to have food prejudices: they don’t eat organs, kaszanka (Polish equivalent of black pudding), knob celery, herrings… I always insist they give it a try. And so far I’ve never gotten a reaction different than “wow!”. I show our guests that within a different composition, the taste can be completely different. We recently had a guest who hated beef tongue - he associated it with an unappealing piece of meat in horseradish sauce. He tried it here and was actually able to enjoy it.
It's quite similar with kids. Parents often claim: my kid would never eat cilantro, my kid hates mushroom, he doesn't like spicy! Together with Grzesiek Łapanowski we've been working on many culinary projects and workshops for kids. Usually the only prejudices kids have are the prejudices of their parents.
What about the name - Norma?
It is our dream to set standards one day (norma means norm/standard in Polish). We want to show how we feel a restaurant should be like. It should be a norm to serve interesting dishes, take great care about the quality of ingredients (we have the best, carefully chosen suppliers from different parts of Poland) and keep the prices reasonable.
Norma is also a title of one of Bellini's operas (the restaurant is situated next to the National Opera in Warsaw).
Kuba doesn't mention this, but the title role is considered one of the most difficult in the whole soprano repertoire. It seems that the standards set by Norma are going to be rather high.