“Plant-based cuisine has already changed a lot, but in fact, it’s just gaining momentum” – interview with Chef Jacek Koprowski

Weronika Pochylska - Creative Director | Chefs For Change

At first, he treated cooking as an escape from people. But behind this rebellious attitude, a lot of talent was hiding. With Jacek Koprowski, until recently a chef in Sztuczka Gdynia, who today runs his own Fino restaurant, we talk about his beginnings with plant-based cuisine, the future of food, and the reasons why he decided to join the group of ambassadors of Chefs For Change International project.

Why did you choose gastronomy for your career path?

Once my teacher in gastronomy school asked me how I was going to work in services, in gastronomy with my approach. I said I don’t want to have to interact with people, and that’s why I want to work in the kitchen. It was a kind of rebellion for me – no one judges you in the kitchen. If you work well, that’s how you gain respect. I was a young boy, full of insecurities, and the harder I worked and the better I cooked, the more I felt it made sense.

What advice and guidance would you give to people aspiring to become chefs?

Hard work, perseverance, humility, respect for people, and the product are necessary. But also it is important to take care of what is beyond work: relationships with people, passion, time for family. You have to find balance – it is easy to overwork, and even easier to be disappointed by the promises of the owners. If the job and place don’t suit you, don’t wait, keep searching until you find a better one. If you’re going to take a step backward, it’s only to go two ahead right away. These are my experiences, and it is best to learn on your own. To quote a classic: you won’t learn anything unless you make mistakes.

What do you consider your greatest success so far?

My greatest success is to have my wonderful wife, who is supporting me, and our beloved son. Thanks to them I keep my balance and remember that I work for them and no recognition is as important. The second thing is my team in both restaurants. I work with great people and if I were to get any awards, it’s for them and thanks to them, because I wouldn’t put it all together myself.

Have you always had fully plant-based options in your restaurant?

Plant-based options came up when I was a chef in Sztuczka. This was another stage in my development as a cook. It was an interesting challenge because I took my favorite ingredients and had to make a dish out of products I had previously considered as additives. When I opened Fino, a vegan friend of mine convinced me to put together a fully plant-based tasting menu. And so we have had this set in the restaurant for over a year now.

Have you always been open to plant-based cuisine?

The plant-based cuisine is a lot of fun for me because it forces me to be creative. For example, I have to figure out how to make a plant tartare that looks like meat? The effects of such creative thinking can be seen on the plate in front of you. In general, I’m most happy when the effect satisfies me enough to know that a vegan dish is the best one in the main tasting menu, which also includes items based on meat-based ingredients.

What made you decide to become an ambassador for the #ChefsForChangeInternational project?

I keep wondering how people will perceive my ambassadorship because by promoting plant cuisine, I certainly feel obliged to have such dishes on the menu of my restaurants – also for ideological reasons. I joined the Chefs For Change initiative because I think it is worth talking about veganism and food – above all, conscious food. We need to think about what we eat and what impact it has on the environment, on our immediate surroundings. To change the world we should start with ourselves. For a good start, we can try to change a traditional “fast” Friday into a fully plant-based one.

What possibilities does plant cuisine offer that working with traditional products does not?

You have to create something interesting to surprise with the taste. The plant-based cuisine sets much higher standards because vegans are very conscious consumers.

You serve a vegan menu in Fino. Would you recommend this to other restaurants?

A vegan menu is great. It is worth trying out, as it is still a new field in gastronomy and there is much to discover.

What vegan dish will delight even the most hardened meat-eater?

Plant-based dishes that make a big impression on guests are tartar made of compressed and then dried watermelon, which in its look and texture reminds of beef. The oyster mushroom in the vegetable demi-glace is always a success, too.

What future do you see for vegan cuisine in the restaurant industry?

The plant-based cuisine has already changed a lot, but in fact, it’s just gaining momentum. This can be seen in the popularisation of plant-based options in fast-food chains like McDonald’s or KFC. A bright future awaits the plants. We already have a million vegans and vegetarians in Poland and more and more people want to go that way consciously. I think the joke about a bowl of ice as a showcase vegan chef’s dish is already forgotten. Soon several strictly vegetarian items will be standard on the menu