Lukasz Zielinski is upfront - Polish food is heavy. No denying it, says the executive chef at Frederics bar and restaurant in New Plymouth.
"It's not really for the summer. All the classic Polish food is heavy, like cabbage stew."
But a childhood of stomach filling fare in a small Polish town hasn't dampened his delight for good food or his penchant for native dishes. When the Taranaki Daily News asks Lukasz - an award- winning chef - for two great recipes he offers Polish borscht, a soupy stew bulked out with pork spare ribs. He used to eat it as a kid and says like other soups it can be served as an entree or a main meal with potatoes and fresh bread.
Other countries - Ukraine and Russia - have their own versions. "The Russians think it's a Russian dish. I think it's our dish. It's the same with the pavlova [debate] over here, between New Zealand and Australia."
His other suggestion, duck breast salad with caramelised pears, roasted walnuts and sherry vinaigrette, is more salad-like, the pears a counterpoint to the fatty skin of the duck.
Lest we associate his home country only with cabbage and meat-laden richness, Zielinski suggests other specialties. Pierogi is Polish tortellini or dumplings with a host of potential fillings such as wild mushroom, cabbage, potatoes, onion and other vegetables. Some online versions suggest sweet fillings.
The wild mushrooms are another Polish delicacy. Here casual and holiday labour is available in industries like fruit picking. In Poland, people pick wild mushrooms for extra cash with the product exported in its dried form.
"Like me, when I was young, if I wanted to earn some money I'd pick mushrooms."
Zielinski never set out to be a chef. He studied science at university in Warsaw for three years before seeking a break from student life.
Both his brothers were working in kitchens in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands off the coast of Northern France. He followed suit, intending to return to complete his five-year university programme.
"I was just a kitchen hand and after that I really loved it."
The restaurant he worked in was notable for its fine dining and Zielinski quickly showed promise.
"It was not like a kitchen hand here, it was way more . . . After six months the head chef promoted me to work on the salad section." Identical twin brother Tomas worked in the same kitchen.
In the same year Zielinski met his future wife Emily, a British-born hospitality worker who had lived in New Zealand from a young age.
The pair moved to New Zealand after a stint in Poland and Zielinski began an apprenticeship at Arborio restaurant in New Plymouth. He became one of the senior chefs, taking charge of two services a week.
Three years ago he moved to Frederics and late last year was named the region's Outstanding Chef at the Halamoana Hospitality Awards, the industry-based competition for the Taranaki industry.
"It was, you know, a big deal for me because I came to a different country and won something in the new country."
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why he won, although Zielinski says Frederics has previously entered the nationwide Monteith's wild food challenge and made it to the semi-finals.
Its 2012 dish was a trio of duck called Duck, Duck . . . Plate. Orange glazed and smoked duck breast sat alongside confit duck leg and savoy cabbage roll stuffed with sauteed duck liver. It was served on a bed of caramelised apple and potato.
Arriving in New Zealand five and a half years ago, Zielinski says he was most struck by our use of pumpkin. He'd never eaten it in his life and says his own association with it was limited to Britain where it's fed to animals. These days it features on the Frederics menu in the pumpkin, pine nut, spinach and mascarpone risotto.
Zielinski, aged 27, has an understated, obliging manner. When the Taranaki Daily News suggests another photo with twin brother Tomasz - now working up the road and round the corner at the Snug Lounge, he happily agrees. Name a time and day, he says ringing his brother immediately. No, there's little culinary competition between the pair. "He has way more experience in the kitchen than I do."
Zielinski is a foreigner clearly happy working in Kiwi kitchens. He and partner Emily have a five-year-old son and she works at Ozone Coffee, also up the road.
For six months another member of his family, an older brother, worked as his sous chef at Frederics before returning to Poland. At one time there were four Polish nationals in the restaurant kitchen.
Zielinski is adding Eastern European character to the New Plymouth hospitality scene, showing that there are few boundaries when it comes to culinary might.
700 grams pork spare ribs
1 large onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp white vinegar
5 medium fresh beetroot
2 cups sour cream
2 cups milk
3 Tbsp flour
salt and pepper
In a large pot combine the spare ribs, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns, vinegar and cover with water.
Bring to a simmer and cook until the meat is tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
In another pot, cover the scrubbed beetroot with water and bring to the boil, simmer for about 45 min to 1 hour or until beetroot is tender.
Drain and rinse the beetroot under cold water until cool, then peel and grate. When the meat is tender, remove the bones and strip off the meat in bite size pieces. Return the meat to the broth and stir in the grated beets. Season the soup with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl stir together the sour cream, milk and flour. Add two cups of hot stock to the sour cream mixture and stir to combine.
Pour this mixture through a strainer into the soup. Heat soup with a gentle simmer but do not allow to boil or the sour cream will curdle.
Serve immediately with bread or boiled potatoes.
Fredrics Dessert - a dark chocolate cylinder filled with lemon posset on a bed of coriander marshmallow
LEMON POSSET FILLING:
70g caster sugar
2 lemons juiced
Zest of one lemon
Simmer cream and reduce by half. Add sugar then juice and zest. Reduce until thick sauce consistency. Put in fridge to cool.
Melt 200g chocolate and spread on a tray to cool down. Melt, spread and cool again. Melt a third time and spread on a flexible plastic mat.
Roll straight away into a cylindrical shape. Once set fill with lemon posset mix.
1 egg white
50g of caster sugar
Pinch chopped coriander
Whisk egg white and sugar together. Add coriander.
Place on warmed plate and use a blow torch to lightly colour the marshmallow.
Place the cylinder on top and garnish with fresh berries, flowers or whatever you like.
Duck breast salad with caramelised pears, roasted walnuts and sherry vinaigrette
4 duck breasts
240g wild rocket
100g roasted walnuts
1 Tbsp butter
cup sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine the vinegar, oil, mustard and honey. Emulsify in a blender. Add the fresh thyme and season with salt and pepper.
Carefully score the fatty skin of the duck, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place the duck breasts in a semi-hot pan, skin side down, for about 3 minutes on each side or until the skin is golden brown and the duck is medium cooked.
Remove the duck from the pan and rest for 5 minutes, then slice.
Cut the pears into thin wedges. Heat the butter in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the pears and saute for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
Add the rocket, pears and walnuts. Top with the sliced duck and drizzle with the sherry vinaigrette.
- Taranaki Daily News
Is this the best summer ever?Related story: Wellington sizzles in January heat
Get Taranaki's frequent news and sport updates
Choose an iconic Taranaki photo as wallpaper for your computer
Astronomer Tom Whelan explains what is in the Taranaki heavens for each month.