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Face to Face With
Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Do you have culinary childhood memories?
“My greatest memory is the scent of freshly baked dough. Both parents are master pastry chefs so from early on I spent as much time in the bakery as I could. At home, my Mom cooked but it was a traditional and fatty fare, just like in all these old socialistic Polish comedies like “Mis”.
I started cooking during my early teenage years. At the beginning, there were simple dishes like scrambled eggs or tomato soup. During my time in culinary school I prepared all kinds of seasonal and holiday dishes. Some nice culinary memories are from the Polish countryside where I spent my vacations. I remember the smell of roast chicken and a dark cake made with milk straight from the cow.”
What were important stepping stones to reach your current position?
“After graduating from Culinary School in Otwock I took my first job as a cook at the Sheraton Warsaw, where I was able to learn from the finest Polish chefs such as Kurt Scheller and Artur Grajber. Within 7 years I managed to hone my knowledge and skills and eventually reached the position of Chef de Partie. I got there by moving from one kitchen section to another to maximize my growth opportunities. In early 2008, I submitted my application for the position of Sous Chef at the Sheraton Sopot Conference Center & Spa.
I was offered the position of Chef de Partie which I accepted without hesitation, although it was below my expectations. The most important thing for me was the opportunity to gain further experience by being involved in the preparation and opening of this large hotel property. When I started working for Sheraton Sopot Hotel, Conference Center & Spa in June 2008 my professional development gained unbelievable momentum.
In just over two years my employer recognized my efforts twice and my hard work and stamina paid off: The first time I took over the responsibility for the Banquet kitchen and was offered the position of Sous Chef. The second time I was asked to accept the position of Acting Executive Chef. My supervisor Tomek Borucki accompanied and assisted me throughout that process. I was given a lot of trust and faith in my ability despite of my young age.”
Did you or do you have a mentor?
“I admit that there were many people I met in my life that I could call a teacher, a champion but not quite a mentor. I look at Anthony Bourdain in that light. For me he is the most important person in the whole culinary world. Unfortunately, I am afraid I will not have the privilege to get to know him personally. I consider him a man full of passion, pride, honor and great inner strength.
There were a few people who I have met on my way and who have had a great influence on my style and passion like chef Kurt Scheller and my current boss, Tomek Borucki. These are people committed to work, proud, aiming to achieve goals with great strength and faith. In addition, each chef with whom I work influences me somehow by giving me a piece of himself. They show me something good or something I do not want to do.”
What, if any, problems did you encounter in your career?
“The problems are various. Each day brings new ones. With time, they are gaining a new and different character. I do not remember that there was ever something so difficult I was not able to resolve it. Sometimes I need help from other people, but I never give up and although sometimes I do not have so much energy I keep on going to achieve my goals.”
What, if any, was the greatest obstacle?
“I used to think that the problem is my gender. I actually had to repeatedly prove that I don’t differ in any way from men. Now I see it as an asset and I am proud that in a world dominated by men, in gastronomy, I'm on a par with them :).”
How did you overcome that hurdle?
“Perseverance, endurance, patience, incredibly hard work and a tremendous desire to show everyone that I want to achieve something and then doing it.“
What is the male/female ratio in your current job?
“I am lucky that my company strongly supports women in leadership positions. I can’t complain about anything. Men show me proper respect, help if necessary and treat me as a friend. There are only a few women in my kitchen and men are very supportive when I manage to hire additional women. The atmosphere in my work place is friendly and everybody is open-minded.”
Describe your current work conditions
“My work is my whole life. The hotel operates 24 / 7 and, when needed, so do I.”
What is your advice to young women entering your specific field?
“You must have a plan for yourself. If a woman wants to be a chef, she must know that it is a hard, unrelenting work. One has to establish small and realistic goals. No one becomes immediately an executive chef after graduating from a culinary program, but you may become a Demi Chef de Partie and it is already a “small chef”. Taking it step by step, you will be encouraged to continue working hard to achieve more.”
What are your interests outside the culinary field?
“I love to travel to faraway places. It is also connected with my job because travelling and sampling other cuisines is the best way of getting to know a region or country. It expands my professional horizon because I’m gaining new skills and knowledge.”
In your opinion, does the food service industry address problems specific to women adequately?
It does with initiatives like Women in WACS. In my opinion there are still not enough women chefs because they are afraid that they will not manage. We have to show them that they can fulfill their dreams and be successful as chefs in a profession is still predominantly male.”
How could the food service industry/your national chefs’ association/WACS better address such problems?
“I totally agree with the opinion and activities of Joanna Ochniak, the ambassador of Women in WACS in Poland. I think professional women can address problems via media (mainly the internet). They can exchange their experiences that way, but, in addition, there could be personal meetings at conferences, seminars and panels in smaller groups.
It can prove to be extremely motivating and inspiring on women: ‘If she can do this, then why not me at the other end of the world?’ In this whole struggle for gender equality in the industry, however, I would like to protect women against the loss of femininity. These meetings, both virtual and personal, should be also dedicated to topics related to health, beauty, art, raising children, literature, etc. In Poland, nobody has ever thought and taken time to think that way.”
Would you be willing to be a mentor to other women in WACS?
“I think I can share with them my experience and my career path which was not easy but today I am at the point where I always wanted to be. I am interested in contacts with young women who want to achieve their personal career goals and am willing to support them.”
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