Wojciech Modest Amaro is a true lover of nature. His cuisine is an expression of genius loci, or a spirit of place, as well as time and tradition. At his 1-Michelin star Atelier Amaro restaurant in Warsaw, he divides the natural calendar into micro-seasons, and his dishes are referred to as ‘moments’ or lasting memories to be cherished for years.
As mentor for the East European finalist at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018, he spoke to Fine Dining Lovers about his own journey as a chef, and his connection with the natural world.
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a chef – what inspired you and what obstacles did you overcome to achieve your dream?
I always had an energy and desire for cooking, starting with homemade pastry at age 3. On family holidays to our relatives in the countryside, I learnt about pure, natural flavours – ingredients taken from a wonderful garden, milk and dairy, chicken and eggs. However, my path to become a Chef was not easy. My parents wanted me to attend technical college to study electronics. After graduating I went to London, where my sister lived, and I finally entered a professional kitchen.
What was your biggest triumph as a young chef, and is there anything you would consider your biggest failure?
Working in London was complex. I had no gastronomic knowledge, so I had to work harder than anyone else. I was running at 200mph, and had two or three jobs. There were no significant triumphs or failures – I was just happy to see quick and constant progress – feeling that I was at the right place.
As a mentor, what do you expect from your young chef, and what do you think you can offer him / her?
I expect honesty and commitment. The final is just the beginning, an invitation to the world of serious gastronomy. It’s a challenge and a big opportunity. I can offer all my knowledge, experience, talent and a personal touch. I’m patriotic – I have been an ambassador of Polish cuisine for many years and now I feel responsible for this appearance at the final in Milano.
What would victory in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition mean for a young chef?
Every finalist will try to win, and winner takes all – recognition, fame, a major prize, experience and also uncountable connections, memories, friendships and vital tips from other competitors and mentors from around the world. It is like attending an extramural course of high-level cooking.
You have spoken before about your search for a mentor in Nigel Davies, how much impact did he have on you as a chef?
He had enormous impact. When we met my head was full of unstructured knowledge, so it was a real blessing for me. He built a proper chef of me. He was so organized and confident in his cooking it impressed me, and I think that’s what you need from your mentor, because you must pay him back with the greatest respect.
Your menu is divided into "moments" rather than dishes – how do concepts of time, place and tradition inform your work?
My philosophy is based on nature’s calendar over 52 weeks, not four seasons. It allows me to follow the rhythm of nature more precisely. Based on this, I specify three types of creations: Spirit of time – where ingredients originate from a specific week of the year. Spirit of place – where ingredients come from a particular environment. And Spirit of tradition – mainly during winter, when we use time-honoured methods of preserving food.
Why is nature so important to you?
Above my atelier there is a motto: ”Where nature meets science.” Many people think that means molecular cuisine, but it doesn’t. In our cuisine nature comes first, with its inspirations, biodiversity, freshness and seasonality. It’s supported by the knowledge of suppliers, farmers, botanists, fisherman, hunters, and our own experiments with food. The molecular approach is one of the tools we use, but it doesn’t define our cuisine.
How do you find a balance between science and nature in your food?
When you experiment with ingredients you use different techniques to find a "wow" factor. It may be that what nature has given you does not need any modernist intervention. Wild strawberries, for example, are better left natural than prepared in the form of foam, jelly, air, crisp or leather.
What’s your favourite Polish ingredient?
Poland is extremely diverse with access to sea, great lakes, forests, mountains and lowlands. The Polish environment is fairly healthy, pure and well looked after. That provides an enormous amount of ingredients. For me, Polish cuisine must have this forest flavour – and juniper is my favourite ingredient.
What are you working on at the moment and what are your plans for the future?
I am working on my Forgotten Fields Farm, which is dedicated to finding and restoring forgotten ingredients, recipes, and traditions. I will also organise the Forgotten Fields Festival by inviting chefs from all over the world to cook with their chosen forgotten ingredient.