English tapas served in a country garden
Words by Bruce McMichael
Photos courtesy of Kuba Winkowski
Smoke drifts up into a cloud-speckled English sky from the back garden of a typical British house, a sure sign cooking is happening. The garden belongs to Polish-born chef Kuba Winkowski and the smoke could be rising from a smoking shed-full of charcuterie or perhaps from the wood-fired pizza oven in Kubarn, a four cover space and vying to be one of the world’s smallest restaurant.
“I was working just a few feet from my customers” says Kuba, describing a working life before Covid-19 lockdowns. “I would crack open fresh scallops in front of them” he says, adding that he expects more experiential dining to be common post Covid-19. Today, chef Kuba is one of many hospitality professionals trying to predict desires and behaviours of customers who make reservations to eat professionally prepared food outside the home, and not delivered by motorbike in plastic or cardboard boxes.
Growing up as a self-described ”big lad”, Kuba was often found looking in the fridge for food. But it was here, spending time with his mother in the kitchen, seeing how good food could be created through tasting, adapting, that his interest was born. In the late 1990s and early 2000s a career as a chef was seen as a poor choice for young Poles. Only recently has the country’s cuisine shaken off its “pretty bland” descriptors. Boiled potatoes and meat were the typical meal, there were few spices and traditional ways of cooking Polish ingredients and foods had been forgotten in the cities.
Today, Kuba’s interest lies in processes such as fermentation and smoking and together with Poland’s emerging pride in its cuisine, is being reshaped into another passion: to bring forgotten foods, offal, tripe, heart into dishes that won’t scare off customers. His catering college background and training at Le Manoir has given him a classic French outlook which he combines with a contemporary talent, without using modernist tropes such as foams, gels and emulsions. Classic dishes from central Poland’s Silesian region with ingredients like apples, strawberries, sour creams, duck confit, sourdough soup, and of course central Europe’s staple, sauerkraut and fermented cabbage create his pantry must haves.
From Gdansk to modern English via classic French
Raised in the Polish port of Gdansk where his father worked as a sea captain, Kuba grew to defy expectations of his ambitious parents and a conservative career path. He sought the adrenaline and buzz of service and first found it in Sydney in an Italian kitchen putting him on course for a cheffing life with stages in La Gavroche, Rhodes 24 which saw him cook for Royalty and ambassadors and Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons where he thrived under the combination of military-life efficiency and gastronomic creativity of Raymond Blanc.
So, after an unusual original story including winning the “National Chef of the year” title in 2019 and resigning as head chef at a posh gastro-pub, Kuba’s long cherished ambition to open his own restaurant kicked off in late 2019 with Kubarn. The tiny restaurant opened with a menu of classic flavour combinations and Polish-style charcuterie. He created bread sticks with Italian-style spicy n’duja sausage.
Before the Covid-19 lockdown, diners were served small plates using a wood-fired oven and live fire with ingredients sourced from local farmers to create in-house charcuterie, smoked fish, cultured butter, bread, liqueurs and ferments. Kuba is a big fan of specialist meats such as British-reared Wagyu beef and its marbled, melt in the mouth texture and unctuous flavours while his charcuterie skills extend to Paprika Lonza, Beef Bresaola and Yorkshire Mangalitza Culatello.
Kubarn is an intimate, social space and Kuba’s energetic and chatty personality draws in diners and softens the Englishman’s reserve, often seen as stiff and private. The search is not on for larger premises in which Kuba can entertain a bigger crowd but a search for a fusion mix of locally reared Japanese-influenced beef, Polish charcuterie and fermentations and Mediterranean-inspired seafood dishes, with a nod to tapas-sized dishes, overlooking the rolling green hills of the English countryside.
Kuba has found a new restaurant place in the Cotswolds and so will now only be using the Kubarn garden space for development work while taking his gastronomic concept to many more people in the future, post Covid-19 world.
66 Lamberts Field
Bourton-on-the-Water, GL54 2EH