Originally from Canada, Coralie has been living in Germany for the past 7 years. Passionate about women’s issues, social equality, and human rights, she has been volunteering and interning internationally on related projects while finishing her sociology degree. Now having launched her online business and “Years of Change”, she has been working day and night to build herself an exciting future.
1. You are a self-taught chef; what was this experience like for you?
It was from the very beginning my passion and destiny. The kitchen was this special place in my house filled with aromas, activities, ingredients and action. I used to spend 2 months every summer holiday in the countryside, where my family runs a small farm. It was my first encounter with nature and its biodiversity. I remember a garden full of fruits, vegetables, herbs, orchards, fields and a local lake where I used to go fishing with my brother. I think this is how I built my internal bank of flavours: something I always subconsciously refer to and compare to.
When I had a chance to choose my high school, I obviously chose Culinary School, but my parents did not like the idea. I went to electronic college instead. Right after graduating, I went to London to finally enter a professional kitchen. The vibe, smell, dynamics of the kitchen were mesmerising. I felt like a fish in water. And I stayed for 8 years, working my way through the kitchen larder, discovering techniques, styles of cuisine and ethic of work at high end restaurants.
The kitchen was this special place in my house filled with aromas, activities, ingredients and action.
2. You have said, “the kitchen was the best place to be in my house.” Why? What is about the kitchen then and now? How does it appeal to your senses and make you feel?
Then I felt hungry to discover and learn as much as possible, now I feel completely free to create. This is an obvious link between those 2 realities – to be able to create you first need to learn fundamentals. I believe I still have the same appetite to learn new things even now, but also a great amount of experience to avoid things that will not practically enhance my cuisine. The passion remains the same, so is the excitement when you lead a team of young chefs sharing the same vision and philosophy. Most of my attention goes to “progress.” I am satisfied when we make even small steps, but always up the hill. With this approach you can be sure that a few years down the line you will be even a few floors up, and that’s the power you cannot underestimate. The biggest challenge is patience.
3. You work with seasonal products to create “Moments” and follow nature’s 52 weeks in order to create your menu. Tell us about “Moments,” how you conceptualized this idea, and how it is received by your customers?
With the world’s climate change I realized that four seasons typical calendar is forcing me to cook out of context. People expect spring vegetables with the first sunny day after winter – and global unification can ironically & obviously offer that. Just to be clear: they will show up at least 6 weeks later. Also, seasonal products last only a few days, not even a week! That made me think and I created Nature’s Calendar, dividing a year into 52 weeks and also natural environment into natural areas as they exist: field , forest, farm, lake, river, sea, mead and mountains with their own microclimate. Each week in each of the areas I select ingredients at their peak condition. The menu is based on those ingredients, but there are 3 types of creations: first, spirit of time: ingredients used in the menu are coming from a single week of the year; second, spirit of place: ingredients from one single environment, like forest, and third, reserved for winter weeks, spirit of tradition, which represents many methods of preserving foods: curing, salting, dry ageing fermenting, smoking, pickling, marinating, plus a few new ones like freeze-drying and distilling aromas. Apart from this, I realized that not everything is being registered in our food memory. Quite frankly, only a few special things are “recorded” in our memory. I call them “moments”, a unique experience, not necessarily associated with fine dining as it could be a grandma cheesecake or mother’s soup. My atelier is a place where we want to create one of your personal moments in regards to cuisine. I modestly say if one of my moments stays with my guests for years to come, my job is done.
4. How does leadership show up in your role as Owner-Chef? What have you learned about leadership in your role?
The most important is the example you have to set is yourself. People will always have a tendency to misalign from time to time. But [they] also to watch your role, your standards, your behavior, your inspiration, your commitment, your willingness to evolve, to progress, to achieve and discover new heights. Some people say, “You are as good as any member of your staff”. How about, “your staff is as good as you are.” Kind of similar? If you care, they care. If you fulfill the promise, they also will. If you are paying attention to details, they will. If you give everything from your heart, they will too. My role is to set those examples and standards. My role is to find in each one their talents and elevate them, increase them, provide conditions to improve them, provide guidance to assess them, provide also an atmosphere in which they want to grow, and of course, provide stability.
5. You are an expert in Polish cuisine and have published books. Tell us, what are the distinguishing characteristics of Polish cuisine?
Thirty percent of Poland is forested so for me polish cuisine is scented with forest. We are a kingdom of mushrooms, wild herbs, berries and obviously game and venison. Poland has a complete diversity with sea, mountains, great lakes area and 1.5 million small farms.
Poland has rich culinary heritage and tradition through number of ages and also was known as the most cosmopolitan country of its time where Balkan, German, Italian , French and Jewish cultures had their influences. Poland was also a track between Far East and Western Europe. We use an enormous amount of Asian ingredients found here in our kitchens. All gingerbread spices, pepper or nutmeg were used in Polish cuisine on daily basis. It was so popular that we gave to the world several recipes such as “sauce a la polonaise.” made of saffron(!), which today we could easily ascribe to “fusion cuisine”.
I like to use lots of herbal notes, forgotten varieties of ingredients, juniper, spruce along with great Polish products like caviar or amazing dairy products.
6. How has travelling the world impacted the way you cook, work, and/or think?
Travelling and discovering different cuisines, products and techniques has become an integral part of developing a chef nowadays. It’s a mind opener, it’s a fast track to learn to compare, to taste and to be inspired. The last aspect I like the most. It gives me a huge content to think as I always start with a blank page and hours of grinding in my mind, extracting the idea, trying to put into unique context something I am working on. The more you observe, the more you will distill from it. I also call it “ conscious cuisine” – full of awareness, traceability, genius, knowledge past at / by first hand, honesty in making , engaging fully your heart – that’s why my cuisine is Heartmade.
7. When you are not leading your team at Atelier Amaro, where would we find you?
At home, with my wife and my 4 kids. There will never be enough time for us together..and this profession does not help. Every other moment belongs to them.
8. Can you tell us about your experience on Top Chef Poland? Are you a tough critic?
Top Chef is a TV program dedicated to professional chefs. I feel obligated at all times to be simply honest, to tell the truth, I cannot allow myself to mythologize this profession as it was only a place for specially gifted artists. You can hurt and harm people If you keep an blind eye on certain things which are important. And then they find themselves in trouble. My remarks always end with a solution, so there is a lesson to be learned, advice to be shared, and a point to refer to. Style I can always adjust to recipient – the truth remains to be said.
9. What are some of the outstanding cultural characteristics of Warsaw? Besides Atelier Amaro, where are some of your favorite places in Warsaw to experience Polish culture?
Warsaw has a really heartbreaking history and was almost completely destroyed during World War II. Therefore, whatever you find now it is worth acknowledging that it has been rebuilt with the effort of the whole nation. Royal Palace, Museums, Old Town, whole districts on both sides of Vistula river are the obvious choices for visitors. My personal recommendation is to go to a park, Warsaw is the one of the greenest capitals in Europe. Enjoy nature in the city.