Kamil Raczyński

Ask most people and they’ll tell you that Eastern Poland is a gastronomic desert. Kamil Raczyński, a chef born and bred in the region’s Puławy-Lublin-Nałęczów triangle, wants to change people’s perceptions. Trained in Lyon at Institut Paul Bocuse and in Bavaria, he is the head chef at Water & Wine, a world-class restaurant found inside a water bottling plant. Constantly researching trends, ingredients, flavour combinations and ideas, Raczyński is a big believer in both tradition and innovation.

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Welcome to the Lublin Region

Lublin is a great place to live: everything is close, people are positive and it has all you need. Strolling through the town’s streets, you can admire medieval architecture, old squares and a castle. Foodwise, it’s not an overly attractive region. Eastern Poland in general is a kind of gastronomic desert, which makes the market both hard and easy. Hard, because there’s no competition, yet easy to take the lead, create something interesting and become a destination. About 30km away is Nałęczów, a small town with a close-knit population in a land of hops, vegetables, fruits, farms, countryside villages and natural mineral water aquifers. It’s a health resort with sanatoriums that attracts mostly elderly tourists in the summer.

Microclimate Dining

What distinguishes Water & Wine is a unique microclimate, exquisite regional produce and the natural mineral water flowing deep under our feet. We recently stepped away from our long shared table and now invite guests to enjoy a tasting menu at an eight-seat chef’s table that overlooks the kitchen pass. The word restaurant isn’t accurate for us: let’s just say we’re a place that combines best quality products with finest water, homely hospitality and views that many refer to as a Polish Tuscany. Our idea is simple: to source and grow the best local produce. We farm our own fruits, herbs and vegetables, tap our birch trees for sap, and harvest honey from our beehives. Our signature dish is fresh honeycomb drizzled with lemon juice. It’s the essence of who we are. We work towards self-sufficiency, preserving and storing a lot of our produce in root cellars for the next year. I’m curious if we’ll ever reach an end in our endeavours. The opportunities seem endless and new ideas just keep coming.

“The (Five-Star) Treehouse of Your Dreams”

W Drzewach is a rarity, not only for Poland, but maybe the world. These apartments are up in the trees. They simply blow you out of the water. For all the kids that dreamed of having a treehouse, this is the five-star treehouse of your dreams. It’s an absolute revelation. The only downside is you have to book it half a year to a year in advance. It’s 10 minutes by car or taxi from Water & Wine. Getting a cab here is easy but we usually take care of arranging transport for our guests. Sometimes, after dinner we’ll even drive them back ourselves. 

When Fine-Dining Goes Fast Food

Munchies Lublin is where I take people to line their stomachs before we dive into some drinks in the city. It’s a great spot that’s all about street food and was created by a few friends that met at Atelier Amaro, Poland’s first Michelin-starred restaurant. Fed up with the high-end formula, they teamed up to create something more vibey, engaging and approachable. They’ll take a fast-food staple like a fried chicken sandwich and give it a fine twist. They started their journey in a container by the Vistula riverbank in Warsaw serving hot wings and poutine. Thank heavens Jacek Tymburski, one of the founders, is from Lublin and eventually brought the container here. Soft electro, rap or hip-hop plays from the speakers. Sausages sizzle in the back. Local beer are on-tap. The food is super tasty and there are plenty of Asian influences. Everything is well-priced and suitable for everything from a perfect cheat day bite to an ideal hangover cure. They’ve recently moved into new premises so Munchies is now an all-year thing.  

The Lublin Craft Beer Scene

Now that our stomachs are full, we’re good for a beer or two. In Poniatowa, there’s a nice craft brewery called Browar Zakładowy. It uses different malt varieties and makes fine beers. In Lublin, there’s a gastropub inside the Centrum Spotkania Kultur – a cultural entertainment space with bars, clubs, restaurants, a theatre and exhibitions. Browar Zakładowy – Wielokran is a multitap [Polish term for a taproom] where you can try many beer varieties: fruity, smoky, you name it. I met the brewers about five years ago when they were making their beers in the dodgy barracks of a former house appliances factory. But they’ve evolved. For a relatively new project, it’s very mature for its age. Their labels are out of this world. I’m attracted to visual, and it was love at first sight. 

A Neighbourhood Pizzeria You Have To Queue For

Il Posto di Luca Santarossa is a fantastic pizzeria next to this beautiful, green gorge in my residential area. The name translates to “Luca’s spot” and it’s a super tiny one. Three to four tables, tops. During summer, staff will place extra deck chairs and tables outside. It’s a family business: Luca in the kitchen, Monika in the front. She is the warm, hospitable, smiley host, he is a pro pizzaiolo, although – fun fact – he’s a psychologist. He only makes a limited number of dough balls every day and people know they won’t always get a pizza. There’s a notorious queue. On the weekends they usually sell out by 5pm. It’s like visiting good, old friends, no matter how busy they are. The majority of the products are imported from Italy and are all high-quality with a few local, seasonal accents. Then, you’ve got this top-secret dough recipe with however many flour varieties given a cold, long fermentation. The zingara is my favourite and contains prosciutto cotto, spicy salami, olives, tomato sauce and mozzarella. 

Traditional, Regional Jewish Cuisine

The Lublin region carries influences of traditional Jewish cuisine. If you want to try authentic, local food, Mandragora is your place in Lublin Old Town. I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s the place for a traditional Jewish feast. This region is known for cebularz [a flatbread topped with onion and poppyseeds] which is a popular Jewish dish that Lublin Jews made back in the day. 

The Polish Substitute for Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Just as the Italians, Greeks and Spanish have their olive oil, we have oils from Jola Pecio, a producer who lives and works at Skarby Natury z Zabłocia which is a stone’s throw away from our restaurant. It’s a farm with an oil mill, an oil press and a shop. Ever since I started my adventure with Water & Wine, our top products are her cold-pressed, unfiltered, extra virgin oils made from flax, golden flax, blue flax, rapeseed, nigella and pumpkin seeds. All of her oils come from her crops. It’s totally regional, simple, honest and – most importantly – ecological. The shop is right next to her home. 

Lublin’s Two Farmers Markets (Where You Can Find an Overlooked Local Ingredient)

Lublin has two farmers’ markets: one on Ruska Street and one on Wileńska. I’m lucky that the latter is a few steps away from my house. We tend to forage mushrooms ourselves, but sometimes it’s best left to the professionals, especially when it comes to the chimney mushroom otherwise known as the black trumpet or black chanterelle. It is not as premium in Poland as it is in France or other gastronomically advanced countries. You’ll find them in the Lublin markets between September and November, ultracheap. They’re completely overlooked but grow rampant in our region. Maybe nobody sees gastronomic worth in them, or few can identify them properly. They’re really hard to gather and easy to miss among the autumn leaves. There aren’t even many recipes available with them locally. I asked the elders from the area about their uses and the answer was always dumplings with chimney mushrooms. I don’t think you’d hear this anywhere else in Poland. 

A Fish Farm Serving a Traditional Polish Product

Whenever we get the chance, we’ll use fish from the Baltic Sea, or zander, vendace or whitefish from Masuria Lake. But throughout the year we rely on farmed fish because overfishing is a problem and it’s our responsibility as chefs to make better choices. Pstrąg Pustelnia is a family-run fish farm near the brewery in Poniatowa (see above). There’s trout, carp and sturgeon, one of my favourite fish: so royal, although rarely seen on Polish restaurant menus. You can visit the ponds and buy fresh fish. At the farm’s restaurant, you’re always guaranteed the freshest, finest produce. It also sells all kinds of preserved fish: smoked, marinated, pickled and szynka z karpia [carp ham] which is registered under the ministerial list of traditional products. It’s a cured fish roulade of-sorts made from rolled carp fillets, packed in a meat net and hot-smoked. You eat it in thin slices like a cold cut.

Home Cooking at its Best 

If you want a legit, typical, Polish lunch, there’s no better place than Ewelina in Nałęczów. Imagine: a beautiful garden with a beautiful 19th century villa which has a restaurant that serves food your mother or grandmother would cook. It’s home cooking at its best. Don’t expect fireworks or revolutions, only a super simple schnitzel with mizeria [cucumber salad] or a properly cooked and seasoned hot broth that’s so good, my girlfriend ordered it on a hot summer day. I was sweating just looking at it. But she said she had to; it was so delicious. Ewelina’s cheesecakes, apple pies and other cakes deserve their own story. This is practically the only place I eat in Nałęczów. 

Harnessing Local Flour Power

We’re planning on opening a bakery in Nałęczów. We recently managed to revive and cultivate ancient, domestic grain varieties such as ostka kazimierska (var. ferrugineum) and samopsza (einkorn wheat). Now we’re preparing to set up a mill and granary next to the bakery so we’ll cover the whole process from harvesting the seed to selling the loaf of bread. We’ll bake sourdough breads daily using a long, cold fermentation. Michał Krzysiak leads the project. He’s my right hand, a baker and confectioner. 

Eastern Poland: An Unexpected Wine Region

Winnica Drzewce was founded in 2013 and grows rondo, regent, solaris, chardonnay and riesling. We bottled our first whites and reds only for us and as a novelty for dinner guests who often buy it as a souvenir. We have a team of dedicated winemakers who can test and perfect our wines. Interestingly, the whole area is slowly turning into a wine region. Before I started working here, it was unusual to see a vineyard in a part of Poland traditionally associated with hops. Wine was West [Poland], not in the East. But wineries started popping up everywhere. Two wineries – Kazimierzówka and Lubelska wineries – are closest to Lublin with Janowiec and Las Stocki a little further away. Then there’s also the family winery, Winnica Mickiewicz. And they keep coming, which is great and really unexpected.

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