The United Kingdom has Gordon Ramsay, the United States has Anthony Bourdain, and Poland has Magda Gessler. Though not quite as obnoxious or brash as the aforementioned male chefs, Gessler does have the same celebrity culinary status in her home country thanks to her popular television show (“Kuchenne Rewolucje” or Kitchen Revolution in English, which is similar to Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares”) and a string of restaurants that bear her name. She recently debuted three new restaurant franchises in Lodz at the end of 2011, further expanding the Gessler empire.
Just who is this prolific curly-haired culinary maven? Born Magdalena Ikonowicz in Warsaw in 1953, Gessler spent time in Sofia and Havana as a youth thanks to her father’s career in journalism. She eventually moved to Madrid to study art and stayed for 17 years, acquiring a husband, son and a career managing restaurants.
Though the marriage didn’t last long it produced a child and one of Warsaw’s most famed restaurants, U Fukiera. Gessler kept her second husband’s name - even after a third marriage to a Polish doctor - and uses it to promote her own restaurants like Słodki i Słony as well as 12 others that have franchised the Magda Gessler name. Naturally this causes some unhappy confusion with the original Gessler clan as Magda’s former brother-in-law Adam runs popular restaurants in Warsaw (U Kucharzy) and Krakow (Restauracja Gessler we Francuskim) as well.
Today it’s impossible to talk about Warsaw’s dining evolution without mentioning Gessler, who many credit with modernising Polish cuisine and raising the standard of service since her arrival post-Communism. Should you opt to dine in one of Gessler’s establishments – and considering how prolific she is, it’s almost impossible to avoid – you’ll first be struck by the heavy-handed, lavish (borderline garish) décor that has become her hallmark. Secondly, you’ll note Gessler’s ability to make Polish cuisine (and not all of her restaurants are Polish; Gar and Venezia, for example, skew Italian) more updated and modern, like at her newest venture Słony. There Gessler takes the idea of delicate French canapés and recreates them with traditional Polish staples like pickles and smalec (lard spread).
If you find yourself dazzled by all things Gessler during your visit, make a point of seeking out her latest cookbook, The Spoon of Violets, from a local bookstore to take home with you.