By Janice Schlau
Gospodyni, I recently learned, is my name in Polish. Loosely, it translates to kitchen chieftain or guide and director of kitchen events. From my post as chef at St. John Gualbert rectory for the past three years, this work, I admit, is at once challenging, surprising and rewarding.
Michelina, a business associate of mine and a law student from Wroclaw, Poland, moved to Buffalo recently with her husband, a linguistics professor who formerly worked across Europe and Asia. With their combined assistance, I began to decipher the definition and depth of my position as Gospodyni, which in many parts of Poland is treated with the highest regard.
The following interesting vignette comes to mind from my longtime career as a pastry chef. This case in particular occurred at the Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid. A luncheon had been planned on Whiteface Mountain to honor George W. Bush, but was suddenly canceled due to a severe snowstorm.
Members of the president’s security team, who were lodging at the inn, took a liking to the signature chocolate chip cookies made daily, which were ordered along with sandwiches to be taken aboard Air Force One. Before I began this task, under the scrutiny of the Secret Service, the executive chef approached my pastry bench and seriously remarked to me, “no funny stuff.”
This incident, in my estimation, clarifies my job at this Buffalo Polish kitchen. Although I can’t picture God wearing dark sunglasses, an earpiece, a gun and a black topcoat, the transparency of my actions is nonetheless obvious.
The daily dinner menu is another factor altogether since each of the three priests – the Rev. Mike Burzynski, the Rev. Dominik Jezierski and the Rev. Patrick Gardocki – maintain independent preferences not only for preparation but ingredients as well. Italian fare trumps most dinner choices and, as I discovered from Father Dominik, who hails from Zielona Gora, Poland, is very popular there.
“Polish Penicillin,” rich chicken soup with kluski (home-made egg noodles), was requested recently.
The Rev. Marcin Porada, our previous parochial vicar, is extremely fond of zurek. So, via notes from his mother in Rzeszow, we prepared this sour rye soup with dried imported mushrooms, fresh Polish sausage, hard cooked eggs and sour cream.
A seminarian and guest, Patrick Sobczyk from Gdansk, one afternoon demonstrated his version of Bigos, Polish hunter’s stew, a treasure to serve.
Czarnina, that diabolical duck’s blood soup so popular here in Polonia, is served only regionally, if that, in Poland, according to my research with the priests.
Dinner is served promptly by the bell at 5 p.m. Every once in awhile, amid conversations of parish events, the organization of responsibilities and shared reminiscences from Father Mike, who is pastor of St. John Gualbert and St. John Kanty parishes, a favorable comment floats across the dining room table regarding the meal as I quickly collect the dinner ware and pack up my gear.
I’ve been in the food business more years than I care to admit. The slow and arduous climb to chef and restaurant owner, and now this particular adventure working in a rectory, is new to my repertoire if only due to the discipline, on my part, to remain calm and exude humility. This feat is nothing short of a miracle, suffering from anxiety that juts before me like an irresponsible twin.
Well, as they say in the field, my job is safe for one more day.