Chef Edward Nowakowski – Polish award-winning Executive Chef, author & owner of Euro Fine Catering
An exciting chef portrait of Edward Nowakowski
Edward, you are a well-known, award-winning Polish master chef, author and owner of Euro Fine Catering in Brooklyn with over 50 years experience as a chef. Where does this passion for being a chef come from?
Well, that’s my life. The job of the cook is the primary subject for me. I’m very good at it, and sharing my knowledge with the people I work with is a enormous pleasure. Also, seeing the satisfaction in the eyes of the patrons is a great affirmation in what I do.
Having this passion is one thing. To sustain this passion for so many years is another matter. How did you manage to keep your passion for cooking?
Cooking is an art, and being able to perform this art with many different challenges keeps you energized and even helps increase your passion. Like a good athlete you are always ready for new challenges.
You were born in Austria and educated in Europe, mainly in Poland, where you also attended the cooking school. How was cooking education in Poland at that time?
The school in my day was based on practical education of the profession. You have worked hard in all areas of culinary services and theoretical courses should provide information about the types and natures of products you have worked with.
Born in Austria, educated in Poland – have you been a fusion cook (Austria/Poland) at an early age?
I am a child of the World War II. My mother – and me too – were survivors of the Nazi occupation of Europe. This horrible time was full of challenges of daily life to survive every minute. Poland was the home of my mother, where I get my primary education life experience.
After apprenticeships in Lyon, France and the former East Berlin, you were cooking dinner for Nikita Khrushchev, General Jaruzelski, Prime Minister and Marshall A. Grechko What did these guys loved to eat at this time?
Nikita Khrushchev, I believe, was the pork meat lover and braised salad with cream dressing. General Jaruzelski, Prime Minister and Marshall A. Grechko at the time they have “Brizol” another way of beef steak. Jaruzelski was Veal Loin lover.
Hand on heart – How nervous were you as a young chef? How afraid were you of making mistakes?
In my time as an apprentice in a restaurant you have to get used to get kicked in the buddy, smacked over the head and to do the most dirty and difficult work the restaurant required.
Your basics result from an Eastern European school system, which also had many positive aspects, such as a lot of discipline. What aspects of it were helpful during your chef career in the US?
Self-discipline, precision at work, respect for food and products as well as for customers and co-workers.
When you came to the US with three years of Culinary School, a European Master Chef Diploma and numerous Garde Manger awards – have you landed hard in the kitchen reality of the United States? How was your first year in this new culinary environment?
With little knowledge of English it was very difficult – especially with the many spices. One time, I even turned away to secretly taste sugar powder and cornstarch to figure out which is which.
Do you remember some technical innovations/equipment that were new to you in the kitchen?
Hobart’s service equipment was a revelation, even food holding boxes that served the big banquet were a great idea and we worked at Trump Grand Central Hyatt NY. My first bigger job.
Having been trained in classical components of French and Southeastern European cuisine, you have adapted your style of cooking to the places where you worked. How would you describe your culinary line today?
My culinary awards (one gold medal, two bronze medals) and other top awards can speak in that matter. While at the same time working in different areas of the gives you highest culinary experience.
Over all the years in your chef career, you gained lots of award an honours, such as IHG Best of the Best Food & Bev. Director; American Culinary Federation Memphis Chapter: Chef of the year 2008… Are these awards important for your work as a chef and for your career?
Absolute! It helps in all areas. Just take a look on my resume – many awards can be found on my website www.chefedward.com. But in one case, when I was looking for a job, I was rejected for overqualified abilities.
Today the culinary PR world is full of TV shows, awards, competitions…. Would you wish to have this multimedia awareness already at the beginning of your career? Would it have made another chef out of you?
I’ve got some media achievements, and I’m very comfortable with being on camera, even though I’ve never been associated with a TV show of this caliber. Perhaps now as a “Chef Senior” I may do something. No one is doing much in senior area of competition.
Despite this great multimedia awareness of cooking formats today – fewer young people are choosing to become chefs. Why is that the case? And what could be done to make this great work attractive again?
I think in the US, the profession of cooking is still not defined as a profession. This means that many cooks work without formal education. There is much influenced by the then concept of the dish washer to the chef. This is not serious competition with trained cooks.
Then the pay in the catering industry is not so great compared to basics jobs in the industry. And the work of a chef is very demanding, tough and with a lot of responsibility – as for the quality of the food for the customers, profitable kitchen for the owner, keeping cleanliness and hygiene standards and little holiday and leisure. A cook has to work. For almost 30 years I have not had a New Year’s Eve celebration with my wife, in this one for all other special night I have to make sure all is marvellous to others.
With so many years of experience in the culinary world, you saw many trends come and go. What are the most successful and valuable trends you can still see in the culinary world today?
That must be science (GMO), technological progress, health industry..years ago guests came to the restaurant for pleasure of consumption and cherish time. Today guests come to the restaurant for quick eating of a meal and I-phone communication.
Seasonal cooking is great and opened the next big door: the supply of local food and collaboration with local producers. How can this great effort be applied to larger culinary establishments such as large hotel and restaurant chains?
I think the time will come when daily special menus of the hotel restaurant will be gone and replaced with the tour to the local farm or ethnic food fiesta/picnic will appear.
The guests in a restaurant have a great power. However, this power is not really being used, in the sense that guests want more information about where the food comes from or what they get served. Do you think that will change in the next few years?
There is the public emphasis at the moment on GMO to label the food of his origin and genetic motivation, I think GMO will consent to this matter.
What other upcoming positive changes do you see/want in the culinary world?
Science and electronic will make significant way of kitchen operation, more equipment like Rational Combos, robots services will improve profitability of operation.
As a chef, you twice hosted former vice president Al Gore. If it’s not a secret, what did you serve?
That was Democratic Election they provide less expenses food but charge you well, Chicken of course.
Traditional dishes/recipes that are reinterpreted become more common. What would a traditional Polish dish be that you would reinterpret and how?
Traditional Polish food is getting very popular on banquet action station, because of the nature of the food and way of cooking; on very expenses banquet function “Polish Station” contains Potato Pancakes, (Latkes) Pierogis, Dumplings and Golabki Stuff Cabbage, they are attractive not expensive helping the food cost.
As an author, you have come up with a very successful book called Brush with the Edge of Time and Profession, which is not a cookbook. What is the book about? Have you ever thought about writing a cookbook? And if so, what would it be about?
Story of my book contains the elements of History, adventure and romance mingled with a man’s drive to make a success in a very demanding culinary career. A thrilling journey through untold stories of a slave labor camp in Austria during World War II, overcomes poverty, war reconstruction, communism experiences, travel, old fashion of culinary trade education, success, love and heartbreak.
In the first three chapters of this book, my Mother in her own words describes her experiences during the German occupation of Poland. She explains the ways people were taken by the Germans and forced into labor in horrible circumstances. She accounts her feeling the total loss of control in her own life, describing her pregnancies, my birth and the severe consequences of motherhood during the forced labor period. Difficulties of my mother encountered as a productive worker and at the same time, her separation from her son (that’s me) at the bauer’s (farmer) order to increase her productivity.
The remaining part of the book is the account of my experiences during the Stalin era, the political changes in the elementary schools and the influence of Communist propaganda. I include my own struggles at home both being as older child a houseboy and a provider and my thoughts of suicide.
Starting an old-fashioned culinary institute very different than today’s culinary programs. Which are not knows to the young culinary generation. The book contains the beginning of my chef’s career in the USA including many funny none English speaking emigrant stories as well as helping people from Poland to obtain Social Security cards and jobs and the arrest by Immigration officials which results in many years of court case.
The book is dedicated to my most important people in my life. The first person is my mother who has inspired me to write this book; first three chapters of this book are her life story in her own words. The second person whom I dedicate this book is my beloved wife Julia. Her life was possessed with the horrific disease “Cancer”. She has gone through a biopsy, mastectomy, and chemotherapy treatment. Her body has been cut, sewn, chemically assaulted and left bruised and draining, but even as she was lying down in coffin she still was just as beautiful and positive as ever.
A great book! A few years ago, you also started your own new business in New York called Euro Fine Catering in Brooklyn. What do you offer?
We will do all you asking for. Special Catering: at your location, from just coffee break to Gala Dinner or Reception. Wedding Cakes like Chocolate dip strawberry and even Ice Sculpture, we deliver and breaks down. Other Eatable Center Piece like Special Hors d’Oeuvre.
And we help with Cost Management – Budget – Cost Control System.
As you are still a passionate chef today – can you please share some of your latest creations with us?
Normally advise does pay less attention; but backed with your long and great experience as chef; which advise could you give young chefs today at the beginning of their chef career?
First, evaluate whether cooking is what you want to do. Always be consistent, use experiences to learn more. Customers today ask more specifically than years ago, be creative!
Thank you very much, Edward!