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KRAKÓW: A culinary blind date

24.08.2015 City

How does it really work, though: we come to somebody’s house, sit at their table with other strangers whose names, age, let alone nationhood remain to us a pure mystery, but still feel comfortable? What’s more – we enjoy delicious food? The idea of dinner clubs has given rise to an era where eating in the atmosphere identical to the one pictured above has become an alternative to restaurants. No pouty waiters, inflated checks and lousy food by no means commensurate to its price. No more separate tables either, just one table shared with a cook. Sounds like a fairytale? Let’s wait until you see what comes next.

Marta’s house is located in an alley leading to Kościuszko Mound. On climbing a paved path to the house we pass the St. Margaret’s wooden chapel on the Blessed Bronisława’s hill, a white parish church of St. Salvator, old, pre-war villas surrounded with mysterious gardens, and walkers, not many of them at this time of the day. An enormous kitchen works simultaneously as an art gallery and a storeroom for all kinds of knick-knacks. Two rubber Godzillas, wooden ponies, highlander chairs painted pink and pickle jars harmoniously coexist with paintings, sculptures and graphics. However, an absolute power in this special place rests with a marvelous wooden table capable of seating twenty people at best. Once I sit behind it, I am treated to a glass of refreshing lemonade with juice made of elderflowers and ice cream of Marta’s production in three flavors with a blackberry topping.

Marta Firlet-Bradshaw is a sculptor, but now refers to herself as: a cook.

“I eat all the time – she laughs. – And I cook! It’s great! I am far from feeling degraded, I’ve always been into cooking – be it in high school or at a university. I cooked, and I fed people. Now, I am an editor-in-chief of Krakow Post and Cracow Life, but besides that, nothing’s really changed. On the contrary, I feel like I’m in the right place. I have an impression that if my grandma Honorata had resurrected, she would have said the same thing. Before I set up this website I’d wondered whether what I was going to do was right, because I’d found a new me. Even though I’d met a lot of people during these 13 years I felt that that would be something completely different. The kitchen is like the bedroom. Once, when ladies I know from the market saw me, having read an interview with me earlier, they were very glad I turned out to be like them: “Oh, so you do cook!”. Up to that moment, the women had considered me some kind of a snob – a journalist. “People should do what they love doing, because then they’re doing a great job.”

It hasn’t been long since Marta came up with an idea to organize dinners and breakfasts where local people would cook for visitors. The revelation came during her trip to Kazimierz Dolny on the Vistula river.

“We were visiting one beautiful city after another – Sandomierz, Tarnów, etc. – and wanted to taste some local meals prepared from fresh products. We craved food that would represent a culinary tradition of a given place. However, meals we were being served were bitterly disappointing. We had hard time finding a free table as it was weekend and everything was crowded. Eventually, we paid fortune for a bad-quality pork chop in an ugly restaurant.”

While resting at a lake near a village, feeling disappointed and discouraged, Marta looked at wooden huts and thought she’d love to go to the first house and eat whatever householders were going to eat. At their table, accompanied by family members. Nevertheless, it felt inappropriate to just knock on someone’s door.  – What should I do to reach them? – she kept asking herself. And that’s how the idea to create Eataway was born. A successful way to make merry and dine with locals in their homes.

“My first dinner felt like Christmas Eve, I prepared twelve courses! – Marta recalls. - The dinner was of enormous importance to me because I not only decided to cook for people I didn’t know a thing about, but also because I was about to share my privacy – share chairs so far reserved exclusively for family and friends, seats at the table and the secrets of my kitchen with complete strangers. But that’s what the whole idea is about: eataway connects people for whom food isn’t about profit, but reflects their need to share.”

We’ve been witnessing the emergence of new-old times in which anonymity becomes a thing of the past, also when it comes to services. Thanks to new technologies, we can get what we want in a completely different form. What we do is developing close relations based on trust and informal exchange of skills. Someone drives you in his shiny car instead of a taxi, plus, his name is Jack and he majored in architecture. Someone does a catering for a wedding reception without even having a restaurant of their own and bakes the best meringue in the world. Someone walks dogs for owners to places dogs like most. People do things that way more and more often. And indeed, they are suspicious, but also curious whether what they do now will have a better outcome.

How does Eataway work? It’s pretty simple. When you fancy eating something – be it a breakfast, dinner or supper – you just go to the website and check the nearest dates. Then, you choose a house, a cook, pay a symbolic fee… and that’s all! Eventually, you enjoy a homemade meal, meet new people, taste entirely new dishes and revel in an unusual atmosphere. There’s a large dose of comfort in it (the possibility to check cook’s reviews and the way s/he cooks), though, it bears a hint of hazardousness – at last, you cannot predict with who, or what, you’re going to end up. This is the way it usually goes, though: everyone enjoys each other’s company and feels at home to such an extent that householders start sharing delicacies they’re proud of: pickles, preserves, liqueurs. Menus are always specified earlier, but they’re being spontaneously modified.

However: if someone’s dinner is far from satisfactory, they have to expect to receive reviews adequate to the quality of their food. Hence, it may be harder for them to attract new people. Being trustworthy is what matters here. That’s why Marta comes to every breakfast and dinner. Cooks become the visitors themselves. – We want to kindly share our observations and skills during regular meetings. If I am a good baker, I can help someone prepare a dessert – Marta adds.

I meet Igor. After Marta - he’s the one with the greatest number of enthusiastic reviews. Together, they will be preparing a dinner for a dozen or so people. Szczepański Square can be seen out of Igor’s kitchen window, while in his dining room, lemurs closed in old frescos gorge on fruit and look at feasters. Igor, a twenty-something, has been cooking for two months, but he stresses the fact that his every meal is as important to him as the first one.

What are you going to cook today?

Igor: Today, we’re going to have a Polish evening. We were supposed to have a chicken in wine, but I will prepare poultry chops in crushed coriander seeds, young potatoes with butter and fried beets with a handmade raspberry preserve. For the dessert, I will serve tartalettes with crème pâtissière and fresh fruit that I’m going to gently caramelize. I usually prepare an apple pie, but summer fruit won’t last long and I want to make full use of them.

Where do your ideas come from?

Igor: I think what I’d like to eat, and I make it. Sometimes, Marta will give me a hint, because guests often suggest what they’d like to try in Poland. That’s how the idea to prepare żurek (traditional Polish soup made from fermented bread or rye flour) came recently. It turned out that an Indian dinner gathered people who, wherever they went, ate meals made of fermented flour or cereals.

Marta: You know, what’s boring to us becomes a dream come true for others. I was “culinary raised” by my grandma Honorata who was a very good cook and always had her table laden with food. There were no foreign, bizarre meals. We were making hundreds of pierogi and dozens of schnitzels as if we were cooking for a regiment. I don’t feel at ease with restaurants, I’m not fond of hotels – the whole dressing up and a swanky atmosphere are not for me. Freedom is what I like, that’s why I enjoy cooking in a Polish way – generously, whole-heartedly, and at my house.

Do you search for more information about guests you’re going to receive?

Marta: Nowadays, there’s almost no such thing as privacy, even if you don’t have Facebook. Most often, people just write they’re passionate about cooking. Once, an American woman came with her son who worked as a professional chef. He’d collect orders for take-away food, cook and deliver, though, once a week he’d cook at home. Even though I am a cook myself, I like traveling abroad, meeting locals and seeing what and how they eat. My website is aimed at making it easier, letting people see what’s being eaten all over the world. I certainly don’t want to restrict myself to a specific cuisine. I want Krakow to be the place where neighbors cook for neighbors, Indians for Poles, and Poles for the French.

So the whole idea is not directed towards tourists entirely?

Marta: It certainly isn’t! This is supposed to be the project that, first of all, connects people who want to eat – not only tourists with locals, and not only in Kraków, but also in Warsaw, Gdańsk, the whole Poland, and – as we obviously plan – the entire world. You go on a business trip to Bydgoszcz and instead of hopelessly wandering in search of a tasty dinner or supper, you go to eataway and book a homemade meal. This project will have lots of other angles – I am figuring how to e.g., connect a lady who cooks the way an elderly, ailing man likes with a person who’s going to deliver the food to him. If I knew that some unknown Jane was cooking a delicious soup a few houses away from mine, I wouldn’t hesitate but order it. We still have a lot to do if we want to make eataway.com work that way.

Igor: I remember a woman who cooked at an official dinner after my First Holy Communion. She wasn’t a professional cook, but I still think about the taste of duck broth she prepared for the occasion. Thick, golden, aromatic. She was a woman of substantial posture and liked to have a peg of vodka before starting work – just to feel the taste better. I had an impression she was cooking ceaselessly, making delicious pierogi stuffed with buckwheat and sautéd sausage, small pâtés, dumplings and cherry soup. I loved watching her work.

And how did you, Igor, end up here?

Igor: I spent three years working in a restaurant. I have to admit I found it boring just to sit in a kitchen and cook all the same meals over and over again for people I didn’t even see. It didn’t matter whether it was a kitchen in a three-star restaurant or an ordinary bistro, because everything can be done well or badly. Kebab meat can be rubbed with real herbs or wrapped in Chinese cabbage. I applied for eataway. At the beginning, I cooked for four people in my tiny studio apartment. Here, in this dining room I served my first dinner to eighteen people! Later, I was visited by a well-known culinary reviewer. But I didn’t feel stressed out, even though a menu seemed quite ordinary. I knew it wasn’t only about eating one’s fill, but about something more, the atmosphere and the chance to meet others. Yet, I have to get back to my regular job because I cannot make a living just by cooking for strangers. I’ve seen an ad in one confectionary looking for an apprentice – I like baking sweets, so  I may have a try at it.

Do you share recipes?

Marta and Igor, jointly: Sure we do! We have no secrets.

Marta: I describe them scrupulously and some guests take notes.

So I ask Igor for a recipe for his famous fried beets.

"I parboil beets for a few minutes (they have to be small), then I grate them and fry on butter with salt, sugar and pepper, sometimes I add onion. To top it off, I add several spoonfuls of my raspberry preserve and gently caramelize everything."

In a movie entitled “Babette’s Feast”, a former chef of a Parisian restaurant is preparing a sumptuous dinner for the inhabitants of a Puritan Danish village, a place she ends up in while fleeing the French Revolution. She serves turtle soup, blini with caviar and her specialty – quails in sarcophagi. The feast proves to be an eye-opening experience – guests, who are used to eating bread and fish and loathe sensual pleasures go through a metamorphosis. They laugh, sing and find joy in food. Eataway is no different. A shared table unites people, changes reality and slows down the time.

For more information and current menu go to eataway.com and FB/eataway

Text: Kasia Pilitowska
Photo: Eataway

And for those patient readers, who get until here, there is a little surprise ;) Martha's recipe for rhubarb-apple crumble!

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