July 6th, 2016

“Polska” – my journey

It was never going to be easy to write this book. I started off with a bee in my bonnet, an idea, then it grew and morphed into something with a life of its own.

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The metaphorical bee was a realization that Polish cuisine was misrepresented and misunderstood in the UK. With the passion of a nostalgic ex-patriot, I set about writing about a cuisine and country that I loved. I wanted to show Poland in its true light, for people to see Poland through my eyes, and to open a doorway to different lands and times.

My own story began in Communist Poland in 1979. Economically and politically it was a difficult time, yet there was also a warmth and a solidarity among the people, often expressed through the acts of cooking and eating together. I wanted to write about those strange times but also to go back further into history. I did most of my research at the British Library. It was an out of work project, getting me out of bed at 6am before a grueling commute into work, and weekends spent at the library. It was both exhausting and exhilarating. On good days I found that the book was writing itself, that I was working towards a bigger purpose, on bad days I would just stare at the screen and write just one line of bad text in the entire 45min. I did this for a few years, on and off, with periods of drive and periods of demotivation. After the death of one of my grandmas, I had one such period of lull. A work colleague I confided in (he was also writing a book) gave me the idea of dedicating “Polska” to my grandmas, a thought that spurred me into action again. It was a reminder that this book had to be written, that I wasn’t writing it only for myself.

In those years, I sent proposals off to a few publishers and even received one or two encouraging rejections. I was happy to receive any kind of reply or encouragement at that point, even if it didn’t lead to anything. I was introduced to Isabel (through a friend) at the perfect moment because I was starting to loose my direction and focus once again. I was too deep into the project to see it objectively and desperately needed some feedback. Things happened very quickly after she took me on: a proposal, meetings, another proposal, more meetings, then finally: an offer… and my pregnancy. It was challenging finishing my cookbook with waves of nausea and fatigue as my constant companions, but I was on a deadline now. My mum was my hero at this time. She kept me going with her endless enthusiasm and hard work. She would start prepping recipes before I was even out of bed in the morning. My main photo shoot was a week before my due date, so I really was giving birth to two babies at the same time. It’s true when they say that the most difficult things in life are often the most rewarding. I still feel like “Polska” is my baby, and I am as happy when people compliment it, as when they tell me I have a beautiful baby. Yet I realise that I will have to harden my skin and probably receive some criticism at some point – a publisher in Poland has ordered an unprecedented 26000 copies. It will be everywhere in the homeland, and although this is great news, I’m sure that not everyone will love it as much as I do. The journey continues.

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by Zuza Zak

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