Polish cooking gets a dash of star power
Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Michael Ignatieff, Tony Clement, Tim Hudak and CNN contributor David Frum were among the 40 or so people crammed into a Toronto book store last month for the launch of a hot new title from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
What book’s release drew such political dignitaries and intellectual might?
From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food. A surprise answer, until you learn more about the authors.
The cookbook is co-written by Anne Applebaum, whose Gulag won the 2004 Pulitzer for non-fiction, and Danielle Crittenden, the international editor of the Huffington Post. The pair are good friends and were inspired to redefine Polish cuisine after Crittenden visited Applebaum’s home called Dwor Chobielin, a historic property about 170 kilometres (105 miles) south of Gdansk. Applebaum and her husband, Poland’s minister of foreign affairs, Radek Sikorski, spent two decades restoring the manor. When Crittenden journeyed to see her friend a few years ago, they took notice of the dichotomy between a growing sophistication in Polish cuisine and the traditions kept alive by home cooks and farmers.
Acclaimed North American Authors Re-invent Polish Cuisine
Like her husband, Frum, Crittenden is Canadian and her understanding of Jewish-Polish food had come from Western recipes that she said were “often really, really disgusting.” The opportunity to re-invent this maligned cuisine while also exploring the history of the region suited both women.
The result is what they’d hoped for: an eye-opening take that elevates the stature of Polish cuisine. Pierogi are “almost like dim sum when done right,” as Crittenden points out, and a beet-root puree, prepared by chef George Adamo of Centro restaurant for the book launch at The Cookbook Store in Yorkville, turns out velvety and delicious. Even vodka, infused with ginger and fruity flavours as specified in the cookbook, had a lightness that belies the perception of Poland as a bland and stoic place.
“The idea was not to show how Polish cuisine was done in Chicago over the last 60 years but as it is being done in Poland now,” said Applebaum, one of the world’s leading authorities on Eastern European history. Her follow-up to Gulag, the equally compelling and bleak The Iron Curtain, was also released to wide acclaim in 2012.
While she was working on that manuscript, Crittenden was testing the recipes in the cookbook time and again in her homes in Washington, D.C. and Prince Edward County, Ontario. Since the book’s release, she has appeared on television in Poland. She is aware of the irony that a pair of North American women would be demonstrating Polish cooking to Poles. “I was a little worried, yes, but the cameraman seemed to like what he ate,” Crittenden said with a laugh.
The cookbook’s prose is just as compelling as the recipes, particularly for Frum.
“I learned to see my Polish heritage in a new light while Danielle was working on this book,” said Frum, a columnist for the National Post and a former speech writer for George W. Bush. “I had some aversion to the history because of the experiences my grandfather had related to me, but this opened my eyes and helped me see things differently.”
Frum and Crittenden said their children pay the cookbook the ultimate compliment. “It’s all they eat now,” Frum said, “are meals made from the recipes in this book.”