Carving out a different career by consulting with both high-end and new restaurants in his seasonal and ethical way of thinking, ex-Noma and two Michelin-starred standard chef Damian Wawrzyniak is a little different from the norm. Fresh from welcoming TV cookery presenter Mary Berry into his home for BBC2’s Easter Feast programme, the pioneering consultant chef talks to Produce Business UK
Looking very dapper in a well-cut, three-piece suit, you know as soon as you see Damian Wawrzyniak that he is particular and a man of standards. Insisting on meeting in a Paul bakery and patisserie, the chef was eager to share some pastries in between a normal day of going from one fostered restaurant, Salt’n Pepper, to another 155 Bar & Kitchen, on top of setting up the Maroush Group’s Park Royal Culinary Academy, and sourcing the best quality food for all his customers.
The making of Damian Wawrzyniak
Describing himself as a “food architect”, Wawrzyniak started off exploring food through his parents, who were both professional chefs. His father was a development chef on a cruise ship and from the age of six years old Wawrzyniak spent entire school holidays on the waves, where he started to help out in his dad’s kitchen aged 12.
With a cookery style inspired by many different global origins, Wawrzyniak went to school in Germany, before working in Poland to save up the funds to study a Bachelor of Management and Gastronomy degree.
“My food has an eastern European feel to it but it’s heavily influenced by classical French, as that was my training,” explains the Polish-born chef, who recently taught Mary Berry, and the nation, how to make a traditional Polish Babka cake on primetime TV.
“I’ve worked all over Europe, making my way up from being a kitchen porter and getting experience in some of the best kitchens. When the credit crunch hit in 2008 I lost my job, and it was then that I saw the opportunity in private dining.
“I made some contacts and started to help design kitchens in the catering sector. After I started working in private dining for Noma in Copenhagen I realised this was what I wanted to do. It led to setting up the Champagne & Seafood Restaurant at the London 2012 Olympics and the 2012 Paralympics – the largest food operation in British history so far.”
Wawrzyniak is now the proud owner of Fine Art of Dining, a restaurant and food consultancy that provides industry expertise to hotels, restaurants and caterers.
Fruit and veg ethos
When it comes to fresh produce, Wawrzyniak works by his own calendar – one that he updates each year, depending on how the seasons change. “It’s hard because of the changeable weather,” shares London-based Wawrzyniak. “I talk to suppliers every day, whether they’re in Scotland or Essex, and I work very closely with foragers. At the moment they are sourcing wild St George’s mushrooms and morel mushrooms for me, which [the restaurant] 155 is pairing with cured wild venison.”
Wawrzyniak believes in delivering the classics with a twist, and holds chefs like the American three Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller dear to his own career. “Thomas Keller sticks to his guns when it comes to French cuisine and even though he’s imaginative, his food is based on established cookery techniques – it’s good honest cooking using the best available.
“I don’t care if the ingredient can be made available throughout the year. What I am concerned with is when does it taste the best? Forced or well-travelled product just doesn’t taste the same as fresh and seasonal.”
Building a network of trust
Given that people know more about the food industry now, Wawrzyniak believes chefs are starting to come out of the kitchen and communicate with growers and producers as a result.
“Suppliers in the UK are getting really good at providing provenance,” he says. “I get pictures from my butcher; they know what I like and what is acceptable – it’s a specification agreed over years of working together.
“My veg people know all the good farms up north, and my seafood supplier Direct Seafood gets Scottish langoustines and beautiful scallops from the Isle of Skye. I recently stopped using a corn because I was told it was genetically modified. This is the information chefs should know, so they can treat ingredients with proper respect.”
Wawrzyniak uses this supplier network he has built up over the years to help the restaurants he consults, as well as the his venture, Park Royal Culinary Academy. In general, he chooses to work with smaller more specialised companies, rather than large businesses.
“Any company I work with, I know the owners,” says the chef. “You need someone you can trust to be your eyes and ears – you need to know the length, the taste, the smell. There is no human interaction with the larger companies. I need excellent products and I need to know the real picture: honesty is the best policy. If something isn’t available then we simply will not feature it on a menu.
“It’s long-term relationships that make for good supplier interaction, especially when you’re a consultant and you might be panicking on a scale of 20 restaurants. Everything needs to be sustainable in a traceable food chain. I need to know exactly where it’s from, so having a network of people I trust is crucial.”
The here and now
A job as a consultant chef is eclectic and different restaurants come with different sourcing needs. From designing menus and kitchens, to training staff and sourcing ingredients, Wawrzyniak’s days can differ as much as the restaurants he consults.
“I also advise and manage wine and ale lists, help with recruitment, as well provide information,” he explains. “For example, 155 is a hardcore seasonal restaurant. They look for the right ingredients from the right suppliers, so that can be flagged up on their menus and the staff can share that information with the diners.”
The busy chef’s new project – the Park Royal Culinary Academy – is going to keep him even more occupied in the coming months, as he’ll be teaching professionals and hobbyists a few times a week, as well as hosting cookery classes at another of the restaurants he consults (Crockers Folly) and giving cookery demonstrations at events like the London Produce Show and Conference 2016.
“I am interested in meeting more people in the fresh produce industry, from all over the world,” he says. “It will be great to share ideas and investigate new products that I can possibly use in the future.”