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    Categories: Food

Chef’s Table: authentic Ukrainian food and hospitality

Taste of Ukraine owner/operator Orysia Wozniak is gearing up for Ukrainian Christmas in January with many delicious and traditional dishes.

Orysia’s Kapusnyak (Sauerkraut Soup) Recipe

1 litre jar of sauerkraut rinsed and drained (reserve liquid from sauerkraut jar)
6 cups water
1 onion, chopped
1/2 lb. bacon, chopped
2 potatoes, cubed
1 carrot, shredded
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 lb. pork riblets or pork butt (chopped) with plenty of marbling
garlic to taste
bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup flour and 1/2 cup butter to make a roux

• Squeeze excess water from rinsed sauerkraut and chop coarsely. In an oven safe roaster, toss sauerkraut with salt and pepper and 1/2 cup vegetable oil and insert 4 or 5 bay leaves. Cover and cook at 375 F degrees in oven for about 30 minutes.

• Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat 1/2 cup vegetable oil, add chopped bacon and onions and fry until golden brown. Add 1/2 cup vegetable oil and sear the pork with the bacon and onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

• Add crushed garlic and continue cooking. Add sauerkraut juice, water, cubed potatoes and shredded carrot. Bring to a boil. Remove sauerkraut from roasting pan and add to the boiling pot. Cover and stew for about 30 minutes.

• Make a flour and butter roux in a separate pan and add to the soup. Simmer for 30 more minutes.

• Place a piece of pork at the bottom of each bowl and top with sauerkraut soup. Serve hot, with fresh rye bread and garlic butter. Optional: serve soup with a dollop of sour cream on top.

 

Orysia’s Deruny (Potato Pancake) Recipe

7 medium potatoes, peeled and grated
1 grated onion
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 Tbsp. milk

• Beat the egg. Add and mix finely with grated potatoes, onion, milk and oil. Gradually add flour, salt and baking powder. Beat well. Mixture should be moist and pourable like porridge. If too dry, add more milk.

• Drop by tablespoon onto well-greased frying pan. Brown first on one side. Flip and brown on other side. Serve hot with sour cream. Option to fry onions and serve alongside.

 

With Ukrainian Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to deep-six those common fallacies that Ukraine’s cuisine is simply pyrohy and cabbage rolls. Ukrainian cuisine is, in fact, rich and varied in its influences, and its status is being recognized as part of Alberta’s prairie food culture.

Orysia and George Wozniak, founders of Taste of Ukraine, have spent close to two decades dispelling these familiar myths. The couple offers scores of delicacies at their provincially recognized restaurant – luscious treats such as Tsar’s Meatballs, cherry ribs or wild salmon in puff pastry.

Two former premiers, Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach, as well as former deputy premier Gene Zwosdesky and two ambassadors have dropped by for a nosh. In addition, the restaurant hosted numerous Shumka, Cheremosh and Vohon cast parties. Even the mammoth touring Cirque du Soleil hired the restaurant for a spread.

George is the restaurant’s business manager. Orysia is the executive chef and inventive culinary master responsible for creating savoury, well-balanced dishes based on authentic folk recipes. Together their sparkling passion for hearty food has made Taste of Ukraine successful beyond its initial expectations.

Just stepping into their St. Albert Trail location will feel as if you’ve walked into a Ukrainian home with its folksy traditional knick-knacks, crafts and embroidery. And hanging on the walls are paintings of Ukrainian landscapes and figures that immediately transport the viewer to the old country’s agricultural roots.

Although the restaurant and food appear effortlessly put together, it evolved slowly and took several decades of research and commitment before it materialized. And with Orysia, it started as a child.

Born and raised in an immigrant Ukrainian family, Orysia learned to cook from her mother’s example. As a child she did not realize it, however the simple act of chopping vegetables and stirring a pot of borscht was instrumental in learning about her culture, roots and customs.

“In any ethnic family, food is the centre of family, the centre of hospitality, the centre of friendship. There is even a spiritual aspect. It is a connective bond. It helps you relate to your ancestry which brings respect. Above all, it’s good. We love to eat. We love the comfort it brings and we love to share it ,” said Orysia.

For 30 years her father utilized his skills producing sausage at Home Meat Market while her mother, a traditional stay-at-home wife was heavily involved in the budding Ukrainian community. Several decades ago, the Ukrainian National Federation operated the Ukrainian Hall and paid its bills by offering a catering program. Orysia’s mother was one of its staunchest supporters.

“Although my mother never formally worked outside the home, every weekend or so there was some event. Mother was in the kitchen and I was there too helping. It never seemed like work. All the ladies were laughing and cackling and telling stories. Even though I was younger, they always included me.”

Once it came time to choose a career path, both Orysia and George opted to teach. While George was a long-time chemistry teacher at Archbishop Jordan High School, Orysia taught a combination of English and Ukrainian at Eastglen School, M.E. LaZerte High School and at Balwin Junior High School.

Curious about the old country, the Wozniaks first travelled to Ukraine in 1979 and discovered with delight an extensive culinary culture developed over several hundred years. Eager to replicate the dishes in her kitchen, Orysia carried a notebook jotting down recipes and photographing dishes.

“It was a dark period under Soviet control, but we kept going back,” said Orysia. “We would bring Canadian students to the Ukraine even though it was not easy to travel and it was not on everyone’s wish list. But with the students we visited many villages that may have been closed to us.”

“We came to realize the whole Ukrainian cuisine is far more vast than we ever thought. Most Canadians associate it with pyrohy and cabbage rolls. But the ‘wow factor’ kept hitting us. That high level is so under-represented, not only in the Canadian community, but in the Ukrainian community.”

One example the couple discovered is the Napoleon Torte, the official cake of Odessa. Fashioned with a minimum of seven layers of pastry, it is soaked in a light almond creme custard for two days. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth richness.

After the 1991 independence, Ukraine’s culinary field exploded.

“We were able to travel to different regions and we went to different villages. We ate in people’s kitchens and restaurants popped up everywhere. Recipes were lurking in people’s cookbooks. The recipes had always existed, but people didn’t have the means or the ingredients weren’t available. After independence when the ingredients became available, they tweaked people’s memories,” Orysia explained.

As George and Orysia were winding down their teaching careers, they contemplated the future.

“We had no hobbies to speak of and thought opening up a restaurant would make a good retirement project. We wanted to represent the vastness of Ukrainian cuisine and if we had our own environment, we could transport people to different regions.”

The original Taste of Ukraine opened in 2004 on 122 St. and Jasper Ave. As Orysia puts it, the two-room restaurant was “our passion pit.” The main 100-seat restaurant was embellished with decorations the couple had received as gifts or purchased in Ukraine. In a smaller 30-seat overflow room also used for private events, the couple displayed their secondary passion, art purchased in the Ukraine.

“It seemed a shame to keep it in our basement. The restaurant became another place to put it and share it with people.”

But it was the authentic cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients and cooked with inspiration and passion that brought in full houses night after night. Many were return customers that brought new people to sample the variety and flavours.

But in their seventh year of a 10-year lease, the landlord gave notice he was tearing down the building to make way for a high-rise.

“It was hard to disassemble everything and not have any place to move it. We kept looking in downtown Edmonton thinking that’s where we needed to be. But every time we found something, negotiations would break down – issues with parking, the lease, commitments falling through.”

“We were so deflated and then one day George and I drove by this location and saw a “For Lease” sign. We debated about moving in and it became a no-brainer. We all live in St. Albert, so why commute. It was the best move. There is plenty of parking. And St. Albert is a great community. It’s small enough to be recognized and we could build a relationship with customers.”

The opened on the trail in 2011. If anything, the food preparation spiked a notch. One of their first chefs cooked for the president of Ukraine. Despite his prestige In Ukraine, the young chef had immigrated to Canada to live with family.

The restaurant’s fame even spread to Ukraine where Orysia was invited to participate as a judge in Master Chef Ukraine.

“But I had to decline. At the time of filming, my first grandchild was due and there was no way I’d miss that event.”

Ask Orysia what she likes best about cooking food and the reply says everything about her.

“Sharing. The big word is sharing. You want to share the experience. It feels good when you can share what is on your plate. You not only share what is on your plate. You share a little bit of your culture, the ambience and the whole experience. If people leave with a different perspective than when they entered, mission accomplished. That’s what we set out to do – promote the Ukrainian culture beyond the stereotype.

 

Anna Borowiecki :Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.