Sense of Beauty

SPA Hotels

The Tale of Panna Cotta

He doodles subconscious culinary creations on scraps of paper, seeks inspiration amidst the woods, and fearlessly experiments with unexpected pairings and neglected flavors. Today, we sit down with Piotr Bińczycki, the chef extraordinaire behind the Art Déco restaurant at Dr Irena Eris Polanica Zdrój SPA Hotel.
Let’s kick off by exploring how the process of crafting the dishes served at the restaurant begins. What’s your typical approach?
It all starts with a quest for inspiration, often drawn from the splendors of nature. As I craft the menu, I pay homage to the natural cycle of seasons, selecting ingredients that harmonize with the offerings of each month. I conjure up unique flavor profiles in my mind, contemplating potential ingredient pairings. But before diving into the culinary realm, I like to sketch out my ideas, allowing me to visualize the dish as a whole and refine its composition. Through a series of trials and tastings, I meticulously arrange each component, ensuring that my vision, both on paper and in my mind's eye, is flawlessly executed on the plate.

What's the secret behind crafting such captivating compositions – is it the visual allure or the product, which serves as the cornerstone of the concept?
This dilemma is beautifully exemplified by the tale of a certain Panna Cotta. Shortly after assuming the role of head chef at the hotel in Polanica, one of my cooks approached me with an unusual request – he was in search of a horse, as he had stumbled upon a surplus of ordinary hay. I chuckled at the absurdity of the situation, but soon after, inspiration struck. 

I envisioned a dessert crafted from milk infused with the scent of hay, evoking nostalgic memories of childhood. And thus, we embarked on the journey of creating hay-infused panna cotta, a creation that took our guests by storm. With each spoonful, they were transported back to simpler times, enveloped in the aroma of countryside milk, reminiscent of cherished memories from vacations spent at Grandma’s house.

Primarily, my inspiration stems from our local suppliers who regularly update me with their latest offerings. We have a remarkable supplier named Anna right here in our community, known for cultivating exceptional tomatoes – their flavor simply blew me away. I’ve never tasted anything quite like them! To accentuate their natural essence, we decided to enhance them with a hint of citrus. The result? A remarkable tomato soup infused with citrus notes, striking a perfect balance between sweetness and a subtle hint of bitterness. Additionally, we're fortunate to source excellent honey, cheese, and Dutch herring from suppliers beyond our region. These products are of such exceptional quality that they speak for themselves. With ingredients of this caliber, sometimes all it takes is a delicate touch to transform them into a standout dish.

Do you search for additional ingredients during your walks in the woods?
Nature has always been a part of me. My grandfather worked as a forester, and half of my family were lumberjacks, so the forest was deeply ingrained in my childhood and has remained a constant companion throughout my professional journey. Many of the cooks and chefs I’ve worked with have also drawn inspiration from nature. Initially, I couldn’t quite grasp its significance. What was so special about it? But gradually, I came to understand that walks in the woods, observing the beauty that surrounds us, the ever-changing greenery, and the vibrant flowers in the meadow, have a remarkable ability to open up the mind.

During these walks, I also gather supplies – pine shoots, young spruce, and other gifts from the forest – and use them to create preserves, infusions, and unique flavors that elevate our cuisine to another level. These are flavors that leave a lasting impression on our guests because they tap into our subconscious.

For instance, I’m particularly fond of the combination of spruce or juniper with dark chocolate. It may sound unconventional, but the flavors complement each other in an extraordinary way. We also produce our own oils, such as bear garlic oil or watercress oil, which we use to infuse soups or prepare mayonnaise. Currently, we're working on a dish featuring forest deer tartare with bear garlic mayonnaise, accompanied by currant and mustard – a true celebration of local flavors.

I also enjoy experimenting with elderberry flowers. They’re not just reserved for desserts; I often incorporate them into savory dishes like beet carpaccio or cucumber salad, where they add a delightful floral note.
In your culinary approach, there seems to be a fusion of modern concepts with traditional, grounded in natural, almost primal flavors.
Back in the day, people ate what was readily available. Nowadays, chefs like us strive to harken back to those ingredients our ancestors foraged from meadows or forests. There’s a wealth of edible plants we overlook in our daily diet, and many books, such as “Weeds from the Kitchen,” explore this. I aim to reconnect with the roots of our cuisine, incorporating both age-old staples and new discoveries.

It’s heartening to see a growing culinary consciousness among people. There’s a shift away from overly adorned plates with numerous components. The focus now lies on the quality of the ingredients, which must be top-notch. Instead of opting for extravagant items like foie gras, there’s a preference for high-quality poultry or wild-caught trout from local, organic farms. We’re on a quest to unearth as many local treasures as possible. For instance, we've incorporated locally grown chokeberries, typically used in liquors, into dishes like beet coolers and soups.

What flavor pairings do you find most captivating?
I’m particularly drawn to the interplay of fruits with fish or meat. It’s a tradition deeply rooted in old Polish cuisine but seems somewhat overlooked today. Fruit adds a delightful twist to the flavors, creating a truly distinctive culinary experience. Guests are often pleasantly surprised by the harmonious blend of beet and chokeberry or the marriage of fish with tart apple.
Semifreddo with elderflowers
  • 400 ml 36% cream
  • 150 ml elderflower syrup
  • 50 g sea buckthorn fruit/portion
  • 125 g egg whites
  • 125 g sugar
  • Peel of 1 lime
  • A pinch of salt
  • 300 ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • 40 g egg yolk
  • 20 g wheat flour
  • 25 g potato starch

Combine 40 g of egg yolks with one whole egg, wheat flour, and potato starch. Whisk thoroughly with a spatula, then gradually add the milk. Stir constantly over low heat until the pudding thickens. Set aside to cool.

Whip 400 ml of 36% cream until it reaches three-quarters volume. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, gradually adding the sugar. Add the cooled pudding to the whipped cream and egg whites mixture. Gently fold together until fully combined. Stir in the elderflower syrup and grated lime zest, continuing to fold gently. Pour the semifreddo mixture into a silicone mould and freeze until set.

Once frozen, transfer the semifreddo to a plate and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

CREAM patissiere
  • 250 ml 3.2% milk
  • 50 g egg yolks
  • 25 g cornstarch
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 40 g sugar
  • 100 g butter

Combine all the ingredients except the butter and heat to thicken the mixture. Let cool. Cream the butter at room temperature until fluffy and add the previously prepared pudding. Whisk the mixture using a whisk or a food processor. Put the cream into a piping bag and store in the fridge for up to three days.

Roasted white chocolate
  • 100 g white chocolate

Break the white chocolate into small pieces and spread them evenly on the prepared baking tray. Place the tray in the preheated oven (140°C) and roast for 10-12 minutes, or until it starts to caramelize and turn golden brown. Once cooled, break the chocolate into smaller pieces before using it in your recipe. 

Lemon verbena oil
  • 150 g lemon verbena leaves
  • 100 g grape seed oil
In a blender, combine the lemon verbena leaves and grape seed oil. Blend until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Heat the mixture over low heat to 80°C until the oil begins to stratify. Allow the mixture to cool and then strain the oil through a coffee filter. Garnish with frozen sea buckthorn fruit before serving.
Art Déco Restaurant The restaurant prides itself on offering exquisite cuisine that combines traditional flavors with locally sourced ingredients, presented in modern and innovative compositions. Each dish is carefully crafted to tantalize both the palate and the senses, ensuring a memorable dining experience. Recognized for its culinary excellence, the restaurant was awarded two Gault&Millau hats in the prestigious 2020 edition of the Gault&Millau Guide.

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