Martyna krowicka is a top notch chef with a high profile resume, and her 2016 appearance on the food network’s chopped is just icing on the cake
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN PHOTOS BY ERIC COLEMAN
When Martyna Krowicka talks about food, she romanticizes every single bite.
“I love the way the umami adds depth and complexity to this dish,” she enthused, cohesively describing her signature black pepper bucatini an intricate take on the classic Italian cacio e pepe, but her heavily cheesed and black peppered pasta is topped with a salt cured egg yolk and toasted herbed bread crumbs.
“You have the crunchiness of the toasted bread crumb and the savory creaminess of the egg,” she continued. “It really is a decadent, adult version of mac and cheese.”
For Krowicka, food is a lifelong passion. At only 32 years old she is already considered one of New Jersey’s preeminent female chefs. Born in Poland and brought to New Jersey when she was four, the skilled culinary artist returned to her homeland every summer. She said it was in her grandmothers’ kitchens that her old school techniques were born.
“My job was to pick the blueberries from the yard to fill the blueberry pierogies,” recalled Krowicka of her early days in the family kitchen, which was located deep in the Polish country side, three hours from Prague and six hours from Warsaw. Primarily raised on a farm, Krowicka tended to the animals, picked the produce daily, and helped cook and bake everything the family ate. Together with her sister she was responsible for making “old potatoes,” a technique which involved digging a hole in the ground, starting a fire in the hollow, and burying the raw spuds in the ashes.
“After a few hours we’d brush off the ashes, crack the potatoes open, season with salt and butter, and eat them right in the yard.”
The experiences inspired Krowicka’s love of cooking and served as the groundwork for a future high profile culinary career.
“When I was in high school, basically trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else but in the kitchen,” she said. “In my mind I placed myself in an office or a hospital, even a classroom, but I just didn’t see my future in any of those places.”
The aspiring chef applied to the French Culinary Institute and graduated in 2009. She landed a job at Uproot in Warren (which she applied for on Craigslist), and worked with chef Anthony Bucco for two years. She then worked at the Hamilton Farm Golf Club, the Ryland Inn, and Empellon in Manhattan before returning to work with Bucco at Restaurant Latour in Hamburg. In 2019, she opened Felina with Bucco in Ridgewood, where she currently serves as chef de cuisine. Her greatest challenge in launching the posh, farm to table hotspot? Upgrading from 30 seats at Latour to 130 seats at Felina.
“Opening Felina was very much different than anything I had done in the past. The other fine dining establishments I had worked in were smaller and easier to control. Here there are more than 100 seats and an event space. The pace is quicker and the quantities are tripled. It’s a challenge but I love every second of the excitement.”
Her menu at Felina draws inspiration from Italy and Eastern Europe, pushing the envelope beyond traditional pizza and pasta to incorporate doughs, fillings, and flavors motivated by Krowicka’s country upbringing.
“The food here is very eclectic,” she said. “I like to cook things that speak to me and take me back to a certain memory, location, or point in my life. One of the most gratifying things about cooking is the reaction you get. When someone tells me one of my dishes reminds them of something their mother or grandmother used to make, that, to me, is so satisfying. Bringing a memory or experience alive for someone else is why I do what I do.”
” Defining her cooking style as extremely varied she’s French trained but culls a lot of inspiration from her family’s recipes as well as the range of American and Italian restaurants she’s worked in Krowicka is particularly proud of what she’s accomplished as a female chef.
“This is a male dominated field,” she said. “Making a name for myself and proving that I belonged was tougher than I had imagined. It’s an aggressive industry, but I’m proud of the leadership role I have earned. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am today, and I think because of that work I’ve earned the respect of my colleagues.”
Krowicka’s first place finish on the Food Network’s Chopped also helped cement her place in the national food landscape.
“I never imagined being on television but chef Bucco encouraged me to do it,” Krowicka said of her appearance on the show in 2016. “He said, ‘You have a 25% chance of winning $10,000 and are guaranteed exposure just by appearing.’ How could I say no to that?”
Krowicka said she didn’t practice and surprisingly wasn’t nervous when it came time to film. Fortunately her ingredients were manageable.
“You see some off the wall things on Chopped sometimes,” she laughed. “But we were given farm raised chicken, pickled peppers, and squash blossoms, which was honestly not that hard.”
And Krowicka walked away with the prize money and the title of Chopped champion.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “I’m very glad chef Bucco pushed me to do it.”
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