“When I first came to Berlin five years ago,” says Julia, “It was like ‘Ah yes, Polish people…you drink a lot of vodka, eat pierogi, and steal bikes.’ I try to say no, no, we’re different. We’ve actually got a really rich culture.”
Cue the “Polish Thursday Dinners”, held each fortnight at a different cultural venue in Berlin. Julia provides the food — Polish with a twist — and sometimes the entertainment: her own sultry jazz act, Bosski & Gall. As for conversation? Well that tends to kindle itself, tempered by inventive cocktails made with Polish vodkas, like the tongue-in-cheek “Sex on the Grass” (bison grass vodka, rosemary and tonic). Julia recreated this cozy atmosphere in the FvF Apartment for the monthly Team Lunch.
“The fact that the dinners are private and intimate means that people can actually talk.”
Warsaw-born Julia has been running her Polish Thursday Dinners since late 2013 in order to introduce non-Polish people to Polish food. “I think that when people think of Polish food, they still think of pierogi and kielbasa and zurek,” she says, motioning to a sizeable jar of fat, homemade pickled gherkins. The idea of being in the kitchen and cooking for guests wasn’t always so appealing. “I never wanted to be the woman that you’re expected to be in Poland,” she says. “You know — ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen.’ There’s still the idea that if you’re a 30-year-old with no children, then you’ve lost your life. Young Polish people are really driven to change old perceptions. It’s the mentality of the past in Poland that stops it moving forward. Coming here, I got to know something else.”
Julia’s dinner guests span a cross-section of nationalities that Berlin attracts, making her events a sort of microcosm of the city. “The fact that they are private and intimate means that people can actually talk. It’s so cool to know that people who have met at my supper club are now friends who go out to dinner together,” she says. Proving the friendships that sprout from chance meetings at the dinners, Julia is joined in the FvF kitchen by sous chef of the day, illustrator, and writer Lavender Wolf, who she met at a supper club.
The idea to table food and discussion was inspired by her upbringing, “I grew up in an intellectual family. Food at dinnertime was always a conversation starter, and so many discussions were held around the table.” Culinary inspiration is homestyle too, from exotic meals by one well-traveled grandmother, traditional Polish all-stars from the other, and her time spent growing up in the South of France.
With no formal culinary training, Julia belongs to the do-it-yourself foodie bracket. “Of course, you can go to a school and learn techniques and molecular cooking, at a big cost, but I think the real school is your family and having a passion for what you do,” she says. “In a very funny way, almost everything I do is like this. I’m a singer but I never learned how to sing. I just rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed because I really loved it.”
As much as her dinners celebrate the wealth of artistry coming out of Poland, Julia is equally poised to critique Polish culture. Watching the current political situation in her home country unfold from abroad, she hopes her events can also enable thoughtful exchanges. “For me the whole situation is completely crazy and absurd and I still don’t believe it,” she says. “I want to have a political dinner to discuss all of this and see what we think. Most people are really afraid — one of my best friends says it already has this revolutionary feeling. It’s madness.”
Settled in Berlin, Julia lets her creative license flourish in her menus. “Sure, everyone wants to have pierogi when they come to the dinners, but at some point I thought — no — and started looking to older Polish cooking. Fusion cooking also comes from that — you get bored and you start thinking of things. This is how my squid ink black burger came about. I was working at a bakery at the time, thinking about how to make something very Polish but not the standard things.”
“I grew up in an intellectual family. Food at dinnertime was always a conversation starter.”
Julia’s menu for FvF is an inventive mix of Polish ingredients with modern quirks. First comes a salad of beetroot bejeweled with pomegranate seeds. The star of the show is the squid ink burger bun, “When I served it for the first time it was just Polish people at the dinner and they were all like ‘Wow, this is good. This is weird, but this is good,” says Julia proudly, her mission accomplished.
The burger sandwiches herrings cured with lime juice and smoked oscypek cheese from Poland’s Tatra Mountains (a new FvF favorite), topped with a slice of the pickled gherkins and caramelized onions.
For dessert is Pascha, a cottage cheese-based dessert traditionally served at Easter. It’s a variation on the recipe she learned from her Uzbekistani great-grandmother, updated with blueberries and adorned with a dusting of lavender, a flavor Julia warmed to as a child in France.
Squid Ink Burger
- 1 4 x Burger Buns (if in Berlin, go for the squid ink burger buns at Bekarei)
For the filling
- 1 250g herring filets
- 2 4 tbsp honey
- 3 1 lime
- 4 1 fresh chili
- 5 4 walnuts
- 6 160g oscypek or other smoked cheese
- 7 4 picked dill gherkins
- 8 1 bag of rocket (about 60 g)
- 9 1 red onion (sliced into rings)
- 10 2 tbsp sugar
For the mayonnaise
- 1 1 whole egg
- 2 1 cup of oil
- 3 Half of 1 chilli
- 4 1 tbsp lime
- 5 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- Prepare herrings ahead of time to cure
- Combine lime juice with honey
- Finely chop fresh chili and add according to desired heat
- Add 4 crushed walnuts and leave in fridge to cure overnight
- Add 2 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp water to a frying pan, stir until the sugar melts and lightly browns
- Add a spoonful of butter
- As the mixture starts to foam add the onion
- Leave on low heat, stirring from time to time until they turn golden
- Warm buns for 5 minutes at 200°c
- Blend all ingredients together for 1 minute and it’s done and delicious
Assemble the burger
- Spread a thick layer of mayonnaise on both sides of the burger bun
- Scatter with rocket, spoon on cured herring with some of the brine
- Place thinly sliced cheese on grill
- When it starts to melt place directly on the herring
- Add a spoonful of the onions
Lavender and Blueberry Pascha
- 1 8 whole eggs (only egg yolks will be used)
- 2 1 kg cottage cheese, Polish twaróg or German quark
- 3 50g butter
- 4 250g sugar
- 5 30g of dried or fresh lavender flowers
- 6 100g fresh blueberries
- 7 (optional) a jar of blueberries in syrup, pureed
- Hard boil the eggs
- Cool in cold water for a few minutes
- Peel and remove only the yolks (Julia suggests to eat the whites with caviar while you cook!)
- Combine egg yolks with sugar.
- Add butter to the mixture, combining well
- Pour in the cottage cheese and mix until dense and creamy
- Add the blueberries and lavender flowers. Mix again.
- Take a very clean tea towel (to be extra sure — boil it first in 100°C water)
- Place tea towel inside a large bowl so that it lines the inside.
- Pour the mixture inside. Cover it with the rest of the tea towel.
- Use a heavy plate or dish as a weight, placing it directly on top. Leave it in a fridge for minimum 6 hours. This will help to strain the water from the cheese.
- Remove weight and using a larger plate, cover the bowl and invert onto a plate, peeling off the towel.
- Cut into slices as you would a cake, or form into balls with a spoon.
- Decorate with lavender flowers, fresh blueberries and the optional blueberry puree
Thanks, Julia, for the memorable lunch and discussion of all things Polish. If you’re in Berlin, join in on Julia’s Polish Thursday Dinners. Keep up with Julia’s jazz project Bosski & Gall, and see their new video, “Parlez-vous français“. For those up for another course, take a look at more recipes and culinary adventures in the FvF Cooks series.
Interview & Text:Ruby Goss