Flavor of Poland is a new culinary travel series about Poland which first premiered on public television channels across the United States in January 2020. The series is the first of its kind by virtue of its exclusive focus on Poland, allowing viewers to immerse themselves into the country’s history, culture, and, most importantly, its culinary heritage.
The series presents Poland as an open and welcoming country with European class and style, focused on its modernity and progression, while honoring its rich culture and national legacy. The program portrays a positive image of Poland and was created to celebrate the estimated 10 million Polish-Americans currently living in the United States.
In Flavor of Poland, host Aleksandra August, an American actress of Polish descent, returns to her native country to discover her roots and to answer all of the questions her friends in the United States have asked about her homeland. In every episode, she takes viewers to a new area of the country, where she uncovers the charm of the local culture while revealing the secrets of each region’s cuisine.
Author: Daniel Pogorzelski, The Warsaw Institute Review Chicago Correspondent
Daniel Pogorzelski, The Warsaw Institute Review: Tell us about yourself.
I am a Polish-American actress, writer and producer. I was born in Poland in a small town called, Tuchów, just about an hour east of Kraków. I emigrated to the States with my family when I was 3 years old and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I am a graduate of Northwestern University, where I received my acting training. I’ve been working in the world of theater, television, film and marketing here in Chicago and Los Angeles since my time at school. I’m a creative and a storyteller at heart and I love to create work that inspires and educates audiences around the world.
You were born in Poland. How does the country and its traditions figure into your life?
I left Poland at a very young age (before I was old enough to even remember it well), but its traditions and culture remained a big part of my life. Growing up I feel as if I lived in America everywhere outside of the house, but the moment I came back home, everything became Polish. My parents, grandparents and relatives took great care to instill Polish customs, the language, the history and the cuisine into my life. Spending time with family I was always expected to speak Polish (thanks to that I can still speak it fluently today!). I attended Polish school on Saturdays where I learned grammar, literature and history. At home I was my mom’s right hand in the kitchen for all holidays and special occasions – it was a great way to learn about Polish food traditions… and learn how to cook!
If you were to ask me if I feel more Polish or American, I’d have to say that I feel equally both. When you are a part of a country and its culture you understand its character and its sentiment in your spirit. I think I carry and understand Poland very deeply in mine, even though I call America home.
How did Flavor of Poland come about?
The idea for the show came about because we looked around and noticed that there was a great lack of understanding about true Polish cuisine and culture here in the United States. At the same time, it’s safe to say that Americans know Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and many other cuisines from around the world like the back of their hand, thanks to the amount of programming about them on television and their popularity among American restaurants! We wanted to change the perception of our Polish cuisine here in the States and create a better understanding of what it truly is. The producers of the show at Independent Film Factory, and I are all native Poles. We grew up with Polish traditions and know our culture very well. That is not the Polish culture that Americans know here in the U.S.. Our cuisine is more than just pierogi, kielbasa and vodka, our history is very long and very interesting and we have so many beautiful traditions that we haven’t promoted around the world yet.
Now, with Flavor of Poland, we’ve created a platform where American TV audiences can travel across the various regions of Poland and learn about that history and those traditions, while at the same time learning about Poland’s real flavors – both the old traditions and the new trends! It’s eye-opening (I have to admit; it was surprising even to me!)
What’s the theme of the show, and why?
Flavor of Poland is a culinary travel show that has the intention of teaching audiences in the United States about Poland, touching upon its history and its modernity, its customs, and its tastes, both old traditions and new trends. Our goal is to teach U.S. audiences about the real character of Poland, taking them deeper into the subject than ever before. We want to paint a real picture of Poland to those who haven’t known much about it yet. Poland is such a rich and beautiful nation, and it has really brought itself up out of a lot of difficult history and flourished, particularly in the last couple decades. We want to share that history and give Poland the promotion it deserves to have with people around the United States.
The show is focused on food and travel on an almost 50/50 split because in order to truly understand the flavor of a cuisine you have to understand its background too. That is why we take our audiences on a tour of each region of Poland that we focus on in the series before we go back to the kitchen to show them how to recreate its dishes.
How do Americans perceive Polish cuisine?
I think that Americans have not been exposed to most of Polish cuisine, at least up until Flavor of Poland. The pierogi, kiełbasa, gołabki, beer and vodka they know are a part of Polish traditions but anyone from Poland knows very well that that is just a very surface level sampling of our cuisine. Polish cuisine is actually a whole lot lighter, more nutritious and older in its traditions than people in the U.S. realize. The reason there’s this lack of knowledge on the topic among Americans is because it simply hasn’t been shared with them thoroughly yet. I think Flavor of Poland is doing a really great job breaking the American “myths” around Polish cuisine and providing the insight and education that has been missing up until now. I hope Americans get excited to try this wider array of Polish dishes at home after watching the show!
Describe to us your relationship with food.
My relationship with food is very strong, and very close. I definitely have a big love for food. I always have. In fact, my mom says that I am one of those people for whom it feels really gratifying to make a meal. That’s because I enjoy and savor every bite! I’m not a picky eater. I’m excited to try new flavors and traditions, so long, of course, as the food is prepared with fresh products and in a healthy way – good quality is the only rule I have. No one should be putting junk in their body. I think food is meant to nourish our bodies and our spirits. Unfortunately, the world had forgotten about that up until recently. I think we’re slowly becoming more conscious of the matter and that makes me very happy. In fact, that’s a very big trend with food in Poland right now! But more on that later…
When it comes to cooking food, for me it has to come from a point of real inspiration. No power in the world can force me to make a meal just for the sake of making something to eat. Cooking has to be an exciting and creative process for me. When I do it, I do it with care and really try to make dishes that are unique in some way or another. I want those who enjoy the meal to have an experience with it beyond just satiating hunger.
Cooking is often referred to as an “art,” and I truly believe that it is exactly that! Like a true artist, I can’t cook or eat anything that doesn’t really excite and inspire me.
Poland has been characterized as the ‘heart of Europe” and the “crossroads of cultures” because of the many traditions which collide here. How has that influenced the way you share Polish cooking with your audience?
The only way to share any cuisine with an audience is to show where it comes from and how its flavors and traditions developed. You can’t showcase Polish cuisine without touching upon the various cultural and ethnic influences that have developed the traditions. Poland is one of the countries that are said to be the “heart” of the European continent and it certainly had been a crossroads for many cultures as well as a home to people of various backgrounds. I think the region of Podlasie in Poland is a great example of that! The traditional foods from that part of Poland are a melting pot of influences from ethnic groups such as the Lithuanians, Russians, Macedonians, Germans, Jews, and more! If you travel around Poland you’ll come across many other areas, especially those that border with other nations (or had even been a part of other nations!) that have this same mix of influences. That said, food is something that’s borrowed and shared all over the world. You could argue that Chinese pot-stickers, Italian ravioli and Polish pierogi are all a part of the same family. They’re just prepared in different ways based on a culture’s traditions, native food products and flavor preferences. So, I think that regardless of what other cultures have influenced Polish cuisine, over time they have become Polish in character and tradition.
How did you end up as our guide through Poland and Polish cuisine in Flavor of Poland?
I am a professional actress. Working in the film and television industry I crossed paths with the producers of the show (Independent Film Factory) quite a few years ago. When they came up with the concept for a culinary travel show that would introduce Poland to American audiences around the United States, they thought I might be a good fit for the host. I auditioned for the role and got the part!
I am a true blend of Poland and the U.S. within myself. I speak both languages fluently and understand both cultures. I think maybe in that way I make for a good translator between the two nations.
The show’s concept is also my story. Flavor of Poland tells the story of an American girl who travels back to the country of her ancestors to uncover its beauty, history, traditions and cuisine. As she learns about Poland so does the audience. This is my true story. There’s only a little bit of Poland that I knew (in a tangible way) before the production of this show. Flavor of Poland has given me the chance to see almost every part of the country I left as a little girl. I finally feel as if I know it well.
Where did you take viewers in the first season of Flavor of Poland?
Our series consists of 13 episodes, so the first season is focused on 12 of Poland’s 16 regions (we hope to feature the rest in future seasons!). The episodes are each dedicated to one, specific region. In every one, I begin by taking viewers on a tour through the region, exploring its history, monuments, culture, traditions and food, and then I meet them back in the kitchen to recreate dishes from, or inspired by that part or Poland. The first season takes us to Kraków/Lesser Poland, Warsaw/Masovia, Rzeszow/Sub-Carpathia, Bialystok/Podlasie, Olsztyn/Warmia & Mazury, Trójmiasto/Pomerania, Katowice/Silesia, Wroclaw/Lower Silesia, Poznan/Greater Poland, Toruń/Kujavian Pomerania, Kielce/Holy Cross, Lublin/Lublin, and a special feature episode on the famous Polish mountain town of Zakopane, the heart of an area known as “Podhale” in Lesser Poland.
Who can watch the program?
Everyone in the United States can watch!
Flavor of Poland is an American Public Television series. It is co-produced by Chicago’s, WTTW, one of the major public television networks in the U.S.. It is now available to watch almost everywhere around the United States. The American Public TV (APT) network has individual stations in all U.S. cities that each run their own, individual programming based on local viewer preferences; however, there is one channel that airs the same schedule almost nationwide (it has somewhere around an 85% reach across the U.S.), and that channel is called Create TV. Flavor of Poland airs almost all around America on Create TV every Monday at 12PM & 4PM EST. The series is also featured on many local stations around the United States but the schedule varies from city to city.
For those who don’t have access to public television, the series is also available for viewing online within U.S. territory via the PBS website.
You’re on PBS CreateTV. Tell us more about the network, for those readers who might be unfamiliar with it.
Create is an American digital broadcast television network. The network broadcasts how-to, DIY and other lifestyle-oriented instructional programming 24 hours a day. Today, Create TV reaches more than 85% of Unites States’ television households!
Share with us the response you’ve gotten regarding Flavor of Poland from the American public.
The response to the show has been incredible! We’ve gotten so many compliments and positive feedback – it’s been so gratifying and even touching at times to read the comments and the messages we receive. So many people around the U.S., both those with and without Polish roots, have thanked us for providing this education and for giving them a window into Poland. Not everyone is always able to travel to see it in person, and especially not the whole country all at once. The show really gives everyone an opportunity to see it all, to learn about it and to hopefully add these places to their future travel bucket lists. For many viewers, the show has also been a reminder of old family traditions that have faded somewhat across generations. It’s like digging up forgotten old family photos or heirlooms. Given that almost 10 million Americans trace their roots back to Poland, it’s a very sentimental experience for a lot of our viewers. Almost everyone says they’re now seeing Poland in a completely new light – for what it truly is. All of it is exactly why we set out to make this program and to see it working and giving joy to so many TV audiences across the U.S. is so rewarding!
Which Polish dish are you most fond of?
This is always a difficult question for me to answer! I think it usually comes down to Żurek for me though. It’s the Polish sour-rye soup. It’s prepared in a number of different ways all around Poland but my favorite recipe is the one with boiled egg
What was your favorite footage which ended up on the cutting room floor?
To be honest, I think our editor did a fantastic job fitting in as much footage as possible from all the regions we visited in the show. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment considering that we’ve got to fit a whole region with a long history and many rich traditions into just a 26-minute episode (and that’s including a cooking segment!). That said, there are a few things that come to mind in terms of missing footage –
– we don’t have the legend of the Wawel dragon in the Kraków episode.
– In Wroclaw, we stopped at Pasibus, one of Poland’s most popular fast casual restaurants today, focused on serving fresh (and creative) burgers. While at the restaurant I was asked to order somewhere around 5 burgers to sample! I didn’t eat them all in full of course, but I did sample each one and I think in the episode we only see two. I was hoping to show the audience what a burger-eating champ I had been that day! I also had the chance to speak with the company’s owner and founder about the concept behind the restaurant and its genius branding and unfortunately that conversation got left out as well. I think it would have shown how companies in Poland are keeping up, and in some cases, even stepping out ahead of modern trends in many industries.
– In Zakopane we also took a ride up to the top of Mount Kasprowy Wierch. It was early spring and it was still snowing up there and the views were quite a spectacle! I wish we could have featured that segment as well.
I’m hoping we’ll have a chance to revisit all of these places in future series so I’m sure we’ll be able to fit in more amazing footage then.
The past century has been a tumultuous time for Poland and the Polish people. How has that been reflected in the cooking?
I learned quite a bit about the evolution of the culinary scene in Poland thanks to all my visits with its finest chefs during the production of the show. From what they taught me it seems that during the Soviet era professional cooking was not something that was treated seriously. In fact, being a professional cook had been considered somewhat of a shame. That began changing with the fall of communism in Poland. There was a wave of experimentation with foreign flavors right after that. Poland’s chefs and restauranteurs began playing around with cuisines from other countries around the world. In recent years (maybe the last 10 or so) Poland has seen a massive change in that regard. The trend today is to find local, fresh products and to revive Polish culinary traditions and recreate them using innovative, modern culinary techniques. Chefs around Poland are using products native to Poland and combining them into dishes that remind us of Poland’s traditional flavor but are at the same time very unique. And speaking of Polish chefs, being a professional in the culinary world is far from being a shame today. Many talented chefs around Poland are showcasing their work at great restaurants all over Poland and they’re making big strides for the country on the world’s culinary stage. Thanks to the genius, Chef Wojciech Modest Amaro, Warsaw now proudly has its first Michelin Star awarded restaurant. It’s thanks to these efforts that Polish food is being recognized around the world as being far more than just a small menu of simple, hearty dishes made for the working class people. Poland’s menu also has a high class elegance and that is now being acknowledged.
How long did filming take, and what was the schedule like?
The filmmaking took a total of about 3 months all put together. Some of it was spread out over time but the larger chunk was done in 2 months – both the travel portion and the cooking segments. It was a bit of a challenge to travel from one region to the next almost non-stop to get all the footage done. It’s safe to say it left us all pretty tired but it was well worth it. We had fun and we were inspired every step of the way!
Any memorable moments from filming Flavor of Poland which resonate with you?
Many! I don’t have the room to name them all right now but here are just a handful:
– Recreating a favorite baroque dish of one of Poland’s monarch’s at his old residence in Wilanów with none other than the director of the culinary reconstruction program, Chef Maciej Nowicki
– Meeting Chef Wojciech Modest Amaro and trying one of his innovative dishes!
– Listening to a band of Polish Highlanders play their traditional folkloric music at a Bacówka (shepherd’s hut) at the foot of the Tatra Mountains! & sipping on some Żętyca and eating some oscypek at the same time!
– Stepping out to walk among a herd of bison in the Holy Cross region of Poland
– Exploring the cities and monuments that reach back to the very birthplace of Poland
– Sailing the Masurian lakes. My dad is a sailor and that is where he spent a lot of time perfecting his skill while he still lived in Poland. I only ever heard about how beautiful it is to sail those lakes from his stories. Being able to sail a boat myself across the lakes in Giżycko was an incredibly sentimental moment for me!
Which destination that you didn’t visit during the first season do you feel the show has to highlight in the future?
All the ones we didn’t see in season 1! We want to show all of Poland on American television! So the priority for season two are all the regions we left out this time – West Pomerania, Lubuskie, Łódzkie, Opolskie.
Any dishes which were featured on Flavor of Poland thanks to you?
Pączki. We weren’t going to show pączki on the show initially because the idea was to focus on dishes that Americans don’t know yet, but I told the producers – “there is NO way you can make a show about Poland for the American people and not talk about pączki!” They are somewhat a part of American culture and I thought it would be important to talk about their history and tradition in Poland.
What’s your favorite flavor of pączki?
The rose jam preserve. It’s a very unique flavor – not overly sweet and very elegant. It’s also one of the most traditional fillings. Sometimes I feel it’s good to keep it classic and I definitely feel that way about my pączki fillings.
You mentioned that you have an affection for wine. Tell us about the wine industry in Poland, and which sites connected to it impressed you the most?
Wine is a growing industry in Poland and that makes me so happy! I may not be a sommelier (yet) but I do enjoy wine very much and I love the culture around it. Winemaking existed in Poland long ago but it faded over the centuries. It is now making a very big comeback, and in some respect, that is due to climate change. Poland is now experiencing longer and warmer summers making it more ideal for viticulture. Some experts are saying that Poland may become Europe’s next Eldorado for winemaking.
We visited Adoria Winery, a lovely vineyard just outside of Wroclaw in episode #108 of Flavor of Poland. You can learn more about it by tuning in to watch that episode; however, the most surprising (and impressive) site connected to Polish winemaking that I came across was my home region! Going back home to Tuchów after filming the show to visit with family I learned that my home region of Lesser Poland has the largest amount of wineries in Poland today! (there’s even one in little Tuchów). The region’s expanse of foothills that lead up to the Tatra Mountain chain give it somewhat of a Tuscan character. I determined my family settled in the right place!
What’s the most frequent question you get? And what’s your answer to it?
I guess the only one we haven’t covered here already is, “How is it that you can speak Polish so well if you left Poland when you were 3?” – The short answer is that my dad, in spite of the fact that he’s spent the majority of his adult life in the United States, claims he doesn’t understand a single syllable in the English language when he hears it from his kids. My parents (and particularly my dad) really took care to make sure that my siblings and I knew Polish and practiced speaking it growing up. I also want to speak it well. It’s a personal goal. I feel equally Polish and American, so I want to be able to speak both languages equally fluently too.
When you’re in Poland, do you have any places you exceptionally look forward to dining in or shopping for food at?
I like to explore when it comes to restaurants so that will always vary, but I guess it’s the simple street foods that are always a regular stop and a must. I can’t be in Poland without having an obwarzanek in Kraków. I also love to get freshly toasted zapiekanki and then gofry for dessert almost anywhere in Poland! I think Pasibus may now have to be a regular must have while in Poland too. As for shopping – I love the Krakowski Kredens! It’s a chain of small stores, all elegantly designed to reflect the style of 18th century Galicia and they sell gourmet food products that reach back to the traditions enjoyed by the bourgeoisie classes of those days. You can find elegant teas, coffees, honeys, syrups, preserves, liquers, cold cut meats, pickled vegetables – it’s a mouthwatering assortment of the most elegant food products that the Lesser Poland region boasts of.
Folks have likened your show to celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ PBS program Mexico: One Plate at a Time, which connected US viewers with Mexican food in an entirely new way. How do you feel about that comparison?
I think it’s probably accurate! I’m sure that Rick’s show gave people a whole new understanding of Mexican food. Much like Flavor of Poland, that show proved that Mexican food traditions are also more elaborate and complex than the handful of simple staples popular on the American menu.
Circling back to Rick Bayless, the noted chef has said that “the only way to really understand a cuisine is to understand the culture.” Do you agree with that statement?
100%, I do! Tastes and traditions are a result of culture. There’s no way to understand them without studying the history and the people that they came from. All food comes with a story too, and I think it’s great when we get to know those stories – that’s when a dish becomes more than just food on a plate. It becomes an experience.
Your American hometown of Chicago has a thriving network of Polish restaurants and bars. What’s the response been about Flavor of Poland with people connected to the food industry in the Windy City?
The show is still new and it’s slowly gaining popularity in Chicago and around the U.S.. I think so far, we’ve gotten a great response from many different kinds of people expressing their excitement around the series. To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with the food industry professionals in the Windy City quite yet. The last couple months of quarantine didn’t help in that regard. I hope to start the conversation with folks in the industry soon though!
How has the situation surrounding COVID-19 affected coming back to Poland and filming for the next season?
Well, the short answer is that we can’t. At least we couldn’t over the last couple of months. Borders are opening back up again now, however, so it is our hope that we might be able to travel and get back to work again soon. Hopefully, the situation will be manageable enough around the world that we might be able to move forward with filming the next season, perhaps even later this year.
What assistance has Flavor of Poland received which made producing the show possible?
There is a very long list of individuals who have contributed to the success and the magic of this series. From chefs, restauranteurs, city and government officials around Poland, tour guides, history experts, and everyday citizens who came forward to tell us about the charm of their part of Poland, all have contributed to making Flavor of Poland a story that people love and enjoy. That said, we obviously wouldn’t be able to move forward with production had it not been for a few incredible sponsors who believed in our team and backed this project financially. Our biggest thanks go out to the Polish & Slavic Federal Credit Union as well as Baron Chocolatier. We also thank Lot Polish Airlines and Ernest Rust. As the saying goes – “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Still traveling, eating great food and making TV and film work that gives people joy and inspiration.