Monika Kucia is a culinary curator and food writer from Poland. She is a passionate believer in locality of fresh, organic food- local ingredients and traditional knowledge, when combined with creativity and innovation, she says, can hold the key to increased community and a more sustainable and enjoyable future.
Monika wants to bring Polish cuisine to a broader audience- but also, something she calls ‘food minus the ego.’ She has presented food from humble beginnings as high art. She has used waste food to create banquets. She treats homeless people as VIPs. She has also curated a farmer’s and producers’ market in central Warsaw, because she believes the “presentation of regional and traditional products is connected with bringing out family, local and regional traditions.” For Monika, food is a human right, a means of healing community and the planet, as well as sensory culinary adventure.
Monica Kucia, Nordic by Nature; ON SURVIVAL. Transcript.
My name is Monica Kucia, and I’m a food writer and food curator so I design culinary events that are also artistic and have some social aspect.
Everything I do seems to be around food, but I find more and more when I get older that it’s everything is actually connected and if food is the medium that I use in my work it’s never only about food.
It’s always about connections relationships is about art is about history.
It’s about family and this what really makes my heart beat faster if I see that I can I’m able to join all these aspects around a table, and around the taste around experience of eating or cooking.
I think I was sort of born with this intuition like you know you. So, I started to being interested in food very early. Like when I was a teenager. And then when I started writing about it like 20 years ago, it was just fascinating that it’s so different in every region, and also it’s very different in every personal story. Probably you have a completely different story than I have.
We actually can say that there is the food voice. There is something that you express about yourself through the food. So this is what I started exploring probably 13 years ago when I published the first book. It’s like the sun and everything else is like sort of moving around it in my life.
It’s sensual because it involves all our senses, and also it connects people because it’s about feeding and feeding is giving the energy. So it’s about the flow how it goes between the people.
Everywhere I go I meet food people. I always connect with them instantly. They have similar sensitivity or a similar approach to many things. They are more open maybe. So it’s a big tool for making friends, for talking about anthropology, for really also having fun and enjoying yourself.
It is everything in one, you know! (laugh)
As humanity, as people we went wrong somewhere.
Probably in the 20th century or even maybe before that when there was the industrial revolution. I would blame the mass production basically and the greed and indulgence.
It’s more now about pleasing oneself than about feeding myself.
You know it’s not always that if I want to please myself it’s actually good for me or good for other people or good for the planet. So because we have means and we have the global system we can have any food we want. And in the end it’s not a good thing. It destroys nature.
But what I’m saying is that we went wrong and maybe there is no way back. But what we can do now is make our personal choices that are wise and we should use our knowledge and awareness to stop the process of destroying our home which is the earth.
So, we started doing the farmer’s market in Warsaw in April. We prepared it for a long time. And the idea is to bring the real food with the real people that are making it to the people who live in the inner city.
We have some markets with organic food in Warsaw, we have markets with producers’ other markets.
In this area, where we started it in Praga. In Konessa, centrum Prza Konessa (?) there is nothing like that. So we thought that it’s good to give it a shot.
And for me what’s really important is that there is a relationship possible, that you can talk to the person who produces the food. So, it changes our attitude, and the way we are used to do shopping, nowadays, that you just come to the shelf and pick whatever you want, because you are the king, the king of the supermarket.
And here is a person who’s touched all these sausages or fish or veg or cheese or anything else that we have there with their own hands.
This is personal. Shopping becomes personal. In this situation that you just come you get to know these people. It’s more for me. It’s very important to respect these people so just to show them respect because they work very hard and they give us very good quality healthy food.
For me it’s a work of turning around the idea of shopping. It’s more about me coming to these people to get my food to feed my family rather than being the picky gourmet customer who just looks for the best product.
I think we should really support each other, and we should really change the proportions in my opinion. This is how it should be. So, the village feeds us so we should appreciate them, and we should respect them.
We don’t value food anymore because it was so cheap. It can be so cheap, and it’s so easily obtainable. We are facing the fact that it might change during our lives like that the food will not be that easily obtainable.
I had a grandmother in a little village, and she worked really hard because it was like a small farm and everything was from this small farm. Everything we had what it means that there was no trash. There was no garbage. Nobody would ever take any trash because there wasn’t any.
There was a shop in this village, and it was open twice a week for I think four hours. There was no plastic, so I remember buying like notebooks for writing. There was not much in this shop so they would produce everything for themselves exchange with the neighbours. And it was very hard life. It was not fun.
Waking up at 5:00 in the morning. It’s not something that we would regard as this nostalgic sentimental vision of the village.
So, what I’m saying is that I understand that we have become so comfortable like in the cities like this probably two percent of older people in the planet that we have the access to the goods from all over the world.
And we don’t have to really work with our hands obviously nowadays they have machines they have resources from the European Union they get money is very different.
The Simple Life is hard at the simple basic one small farm with two cows and one pig farm.
It’s just hard life.
Therefore, we should appreciate and respect the people who still take the effort and they actually do it with their own hands, rather than eat the artificial food becomes less and less actual food. It becomes a product.
It becomes processed item that has no connection with where it comes from. Usually we don’t know what it comes from. We don’t ask this question when we buy. I don’t know ready-made pizza. You don’t really ask the questions Where do the ingredients come from.
Climate change. This is something that I think most people don’t really take seriously.
This is us being lazy. It will finally probably kill us if we keep doing it. Cooking some potatoes and some carrot. And it doesn’t take that long.
This is more about our approach. People make choices and sometimes it’s more important to do something else.
But still I observe here in Poland that we have had so much ready-made food, in the last five years that I have never seen before.
Still with this huge interest in cooking in food in the culinary program’s culinary books, all these like celebrities there is more and more ready-made food cooking becomes a luxury. In a way with our farmers market is a struggle. I would say.
We need to convince people that it’s better to come there to get to know these people and come every week. To have your ex straight from the farm, to have your meat if you eat meat, and to have other things straight from the people. But this is the effort. And this is in your mind.
This is how you see yourself how you would see the community how much you connect.
I never would say that food is the most important thing, because people can be extremely healthy and destroy their relationships destroy the planet destroy themselves in different aspects, like emotionally or spiritually.
So, what I’m saying is that food is just one of the factors.
I don’t believe that anything can be taken apart like separate from other things. Food is something that everybody needs every day. True, but if you live in harmony and I’m not saying I live in harmony but I know some people who do they have this sense of proportion
So, there is the place for food but they are not crazy about it.
We want the children to be healthy so they shall eat healthy food.
But you know when you don’t respect yourself and don’t mean good for yourself you will never understand why do you need this healthy food.
It’s about the relationships you have. It’s about the family you create friendships. If you mean good for yourself and for the others. If you are an openhearted then you eat the food that actually nourishes your and is good for you. And you are aware of all the aspects because you are aware.
So, food is actually a part of mindfulness I would say as much as anything else, like sleeping, loving food just reflects our attitude towards us towards the planet towards other people.
This is the same is about clothes, making clothes, buying new clothes, new shoes. If we realize how much effort and pain and struggle there is behind these foods or the clothes or other goods that we are getting if we realize how cruel it the businesses, then we would really make different choices probably as consumers.
So, it’s not just white western world. It’s more about economic power.
This why if you want to be fair it’s better to buy locally because then if you know what it comes from you can say that you do honest choices.
Yeah. Otherwise you never know.
So, this why coming back to these communities.
I’m for example in this group on Facebook that it’s only with my neighbor it’s like not neighbors in my building because I know them personally. But like in the district in the area I think this is the future. There is a lot of exchange. There is a lot of no money business.
We have the currency. Avocados or wine aren’t the currency, something that we all want.
More like a barter. But there is also the currency.
This is something that it’s so informal.
There is no bureaucracy. I just lend you my bike because you need, it and I trust you, and you will give it back after two days, and I trust with that. And this is normal behavior and It’s nothing new. Like people have lived like this forever probably. Because we depend on each other.
But what I’m saying is that with the global globalization and then with this problems that it brings with itself, the only solution is to get back to these roots, to something that is real and it’s just close to you and you can touch it. I just believe that the future is sensual. Getting to make stuff with our hands, really.
I believe this is the only rescue
We will never create a proper paradise probably here. But when I’m creating my events the things that I’m doing with the food, around food, connected with culture and rituals and some traditions and history.
I just see that people want to have something real.
This is really what wakes them up.
It brings real value rather than just fun or entertainment. What I believe and what I’m doing is to get people involved rather than present something. So, they are your words and they can judge it.
If you are a part of something, then you feel responsible for it, because it depends on you. It’s up to you. You are a participator. And this is what I believe also in gastronomy, like, this why I work with the village women with homeless people, with the like really unknown cooks.
What I’m saying is that when you have the famous chef and the creation of course you relate to this person or to the dish you can get very touched very emotional.
But on the other hand, you have this chef who wants to be famous and then you have the customer who also wants to be regarded as of a higher status because they can eat in this place because they have money.
This is about ego.
All of it.
This is not a simple exchange.
It’s more about the status and about the whole spectacle but meaning like “showing off.”
What’s more important, more interesting to explore, is all these worlds of other people who also feed their families, feed other people, but they don’t do it to show off.
We’re all makers and we are all capable of doing things. I also go to the little villages to listen to old people who still sing the old songs like real folk music.
I’ve been told that in the traditional singing the songs is more most important, so the song goes through the singer. We are only passing it through.
Also, the recipe the traditional whatever, Spaghetti Carbonara, or Polish broth or Pirogi or whatever; we are just transmitting.
We are the stewards, and this is about not being too humble because you can be a great steward, but you don’t own it and here it is the song doesn’t belong to anybody. It belongs to the community and the singer has the privilege to sing it.
When there is less ego than you just enjoy the process because you are connected, and you are a part of something bigger than you. And I think that this is what really makes us feel really safe, like beings, that we are connected, because this is what we all want, somewhere inside.
In the food area it’s also for me important to remember that food is about actually about feeding you feed your family.
You feed yourself your feed your community in whatever way you can because you can feed them with water so you can feed them with films you can feed them with food.
Especially in Polish. There is the word in Polish, Poshivina, it is more like ‘giving life’ and it means food. This is very important for me to remember this. I’m just serving. I’m serving something but you respect me for serving this to you. There is no power game in it.
This is how I tried to create the events and… and I have had this experience for several years now that people need it.
I don’t believe in the fixed national, nationality like in the way that my identity is solid, because I’m the traveler and everybody’s a traveler. If my life is a journey, then I’m changing. I’m just an inhabitant of the earth, basically, at the moment.
Anything is sort of solid like a monument it’s never real. And if something is real nobody will take away it from you. It’s impossible.
We are flowing with whatever is happening through the history. And please remember that kitchen is something that never stops. It’s always changing.
If we say about traditional cuisine to what point do we refer?
What year? What period? It’s like telling fairy tale. It’s constantly changing because people bring products because we are omnivores, so we eat everything.
It’s constantly changing. There is no other thing that changes so fast as cuisine, as the food to world. I’d rather say “Kitchen in Poland” than Polish cuisine. People are scared and they need to hang on to something, because they don’t want to accept the fact that it’s all about insecurity.
This is also about the ego. Nature will win anyway.
Nature doesn’t need us. It’s not like that we aren’t an important factor for an age. If you watch Chernobyl. Yeah? it’s growing back. So, the nature will deal with this problem when there is not more humans.
Maybe we are coming to a disaster. I don’t know.
But also, only my intention matters. So if I do the right thing as much as I can do I try hard.
It’s about my heart. It’s not about anything else.
I’m not optimistic for humanity. It’s about system. It’s about the big money that is behind these things that are happening, that took us to this point where we are.
This is about fossil fuels. This is about global politics. The system is just making it more dangerous for the planet.
The ego is the center, or central problem is the ego.