What is the most nutritious and reliable culinary product? The one from a private garden and a home farm. And what if there’s no room for farming? Then, it’s good to look for a piece of land – be it on a roof – and a bunch of enthusiasts. The best way to serve what is grown is to invite the best chefs and prepare an exquisite dinner. A filling and inexpensive meal in an attractive setting – available for everyone.
Sounds like a utopia? Metamorfoza Restaurant makes this utopia come true. Restaurant crew members, led by Justyna Zdunek and manager Matylda Grzelak, have created an urban farm on the Gdansk Shipyard rooftop and put its crops into the hands of the finest Polish chefs as well as international nutrition and culinary culture experts*.
All of it happened as part of the already fourth edition of Commis Made, the event during which renowned chefs and culinary specialists share and explore their knowledge. For a few intensive days, invited guests were exploring the resources of the urban farm and its surroundings in the post-shipyard area. They shared experiences, inspired one another and discussed things but – first and foremost – they chopped, fried, smoked, and cooked together.
A rich program began with a collecting trip through the park and green areas surrounding the shipyard guided by Janne Länsipuro. The collected green walnuts, wild carrots and sorrel were the starting point for the dishes that would make the final dinner. A two-day seminar was filled with lectures, workshop and discussions. Some of the lectures were delivered by specialists directly engaged in the urban farm project, e.g., Ewelina Żygadło from Milejowe Pole – a farm located near Wroclaw – who gave some seeds and multiple trays to the urban farm and offered her valuable knowledge and support; Oliwia Mielewczyk from the LedFarmer company that produces lamps to make seedlings grow in a darkroom; Filip Gołębiewski – an architect and a young, innovative farmer from Klangor Farm in the Kaszuby region, who – for the needs of the farm – created a hydroponic installation for lake fish farming.
A wealth of knowledge and inspiration was provided by specialists from abroad: Tobyn Excell, a chef from Great Britain, was talking about an emotional relation between a chef and a need to create and own an urban farm; Semi Hakim – an exceptional chef from Gastronomika in Istanbul – acquainted everyone with the secrets of Anatolian cuisine by preparing a traditional dish called Tarhana; Veronica Fossa from WeFactory told a story about existing culinary utopias and dr inż. Krzysztof Herman from Warsaw University of Life Sciences proved that an urban garden can be grown even on a parking spot.
The final dinner was a spectacular climax to Commis Made. Drawing on their newly gained experiences and knowledge as well as complementary skills, the invited chefs – just like in previous editions of the event – had to prepare the final dinner. This time, however, they were cooking not only for invited guests, but for everyone who would come to an open event. For the preparation of the menu, the chefs used only the products from the urban farm with an exception of some vegetables they took from Grzegorz Stenzel’s farm in Rebiechowo and fish that came from Gorki Zachodnie. They could not use meat for the task was all about using the available products. Therefore, they had to take a more creative approach to vegetables and use small amounts of simple ingredients to the fullest.
The dinner was of a street food character. Organized in cooperation with a neighboring gallery – Patio Layup – it also marked the premiere of Nocny Targ [the Night Market], i.e., a weekly appearance of a street stall with delicious food and unique, handicraft services. A patio brimmed with people, colors and tasty meals. Exquisite chefs selling their meticulously prepared dishes in the stalls? Why not? After all, metamorphosis means change. A change for the better.
We can say that Commis Made was both a meeting and an embodiment of the most dominant social and culinary trends: regionalism, community creation, urban wastelands management, urban gardening and even the democratization of luxury (high cuisine in a street food convention). Still, we know it is not trends that matter here: a spectacular dinner was preceded by six months of arduous preparation: sowing, watering, weeding and nailing down planks to make a henhouse... Regardless of weather, mood or a work shift at a restaurant. Looking deeper, we know that the entire process of creating an urban farm consists in a vast collection of data from which the brains at Metamorfoza will draw some decent conclusions. Such as? We talk to Matylda Grzelak – the initiator and the mastermind of this year’s Commis Made.
PURO: What did you learn from the experience?
Matylda Grzelak: What we DID learn was how NOT to make an urban farm. I believe we could write a perfect guidebook such as Urban Farming for Dummies. We made a lot of mistakes if we look at all the six months of preparation…But, the truth is, it’s best to learn from mistakes. What do we know today? First of all, we know the area we’re looking for when we think about building an urban farm. From the very beginning, we need to think holistically, imagining and sensing potential obstacles. Earlier on we were looking at an area through the prism of what it had to offer and what likeable features it had, but now we know that first we have to look at defects: what can go wrong because of them, what will be impossible and what will be problematic. We also know that urban farming is such a narrow discipline that it’s crucial not to employ all the farming convictions and theories – even if logical – applicable “ashore”. Building a rooftop farm, you have to consider numerous factors and an even larger scale of works and problems as well as limited possibilities of solving them. The effort you put into work is enormous compared to the fruit the work eventually bears. That’s our most important lesson when it comes to the creation of an urban farm.
What is worth cultivating and what would you advise yourself and others against?
It’s worth cultivating the idea behind urban gardening, but we advise everyone against gardening in the air if they want to do it without preparation or, most importantly, adequate resources. Of course, the idea of urban farming goes down to using non-standard spaces, small land areas, wastelands, etc. whereas, on everyday basis, traditional allotments or community gardens are the simplest, the oldest and the most “natural” and popular branch of urban farming. We would suggest using old, tumbledown buildings – be it urban greenhouses – which guarantee a moderate stability. It’s easier and more ecological to renovate an urban garden than to build it from scratch.
What surprised/irritated/delighted you the most?
The greatest surprise: the fact that 16 tons of soil sounded crazy but were not enough. Crops we sowed on the area of 350 square meters did not produce well and the results were nowhere near what we had estimated. We wanted more products so that the restaurant could use them. What irritated us was a never-ending series of problems: once we dealt with one obstacle, the next one was waiting for us, induced by changing weather conditions. Too cold, too dark, too much light, too dry, too wet, too windy, plant lice, caterpillars, downpours. Something, always. We were also tremendously irked at having our crops stolen. We had nice red tomatoes and huge grown cucumbers that were picked by a stranger right before the event. The most delightful thing was the success of the event and the interest our urban farm arouse in not only the invited guests, but – most importantly – the passers-by who came to have a look at what we’d done on a shipyard rooftop.
What do you think of as your greatest success when it comes to the event?
Our greatest success is that despite the fact that we had to work at a restaurant every day, lacked financial support and had a very limited budget our farm came to light. We had been building it, in pain and happiness, for over last 6 months. We are proud we’ve made it till the end. What’s more, we’ve heard foreign journalists say we’re doing amazing things, things that aren’t happening anywhere else! Even though our guests travel continuously and are invited to numerous culinary events, including the most elite ones in the chefs’ world, they thought of Commis Made as something completely new. It’s important that we don’t copy foreign models, but are capable of creating a completely new quality with information circulating so fast!
What post-project conclusions and practices will you introduce to your everyday life at Metamorfoza?
We’ve already put a lot of our reality into the project. In a way, the project itself has become our everyday life. But, not to make my words sound groundless, let me put it this way: our M_Team has got a new member – Piotrek – who, as it turns out, is keen on foraging – just like our forager Łukasz. They’ve divided the foraging area: Łukasz will explore the lands farther away, while Piotr will take care of “urban” foraging.
*Polish chefs who participated in the event: Marta Edmunds— Lokal (Lodz), Dariusz Barański —Concept 13 (Warsaw), Marek Flisiński — Water&Wine (Naleczow), Adrian Klonowski—Metamorfoza (Gdansk), Krzysztof Rabek—Odette (Warsaw), Marcin Szwak—Chapeau Bas Restaurant in Grand Lubicz (Ustka), Maciej Nowicki—Villa Intrata Pałac in Wilanow (Warsaw), Paweł Dołżonek—1906 Pałac Ciekocinko (Choczewo), Witek Iwański—Aruana Hotel Narvil (Serock) and Dominik Narloch-Verbena (Chomiaza Szlachecka, Herbarium Hotel)
also chefs-specialists from abroad: Tobyn Excell (Great Britain) and Semi Hakim (Istanbul, Turkey); specialists from abroad: Janne Länsipuro (Helsinki, Finland) and Janina Kayhkö (Helsinki/EFC Farmsystems Berlin); Polish specialists: Ewelina Żygadło (Milejowe Pole, Food Think Tank, Wroclaw) , Filip Gołębiewski (architect, Farma Klangor), Krzysztof Zdebik (Pszczelarium, Gdansk), Oliwia Mielewczyk (LedFarmer, Reda), Zofia Zienkiewicz (Lawenda, Gdansk), dr Inż. Krzysztof Herman (Green Cross/WULS, Warsaw); journalists from Poland and abroad.
text: Agata Kiedrowicz / editor in chief of PURO Magazine
photo. Agata Kiedrowicz, Michael Anaya (9,14,18,19,20,21,26,27,32)