A Parisian in Warsaw. Actually, right now, rather a Varsovian of Parisian origin. We were fans of his Mônsieur Lèon bistro where he used to feed and water us with delicious French cheese, cold cuts, and wines. Today, he runs a place in Śniadeckich Street where, at the weekend, you often cannot find a free place to sit.
How did a Parisian find himself in Warsaw at this bistro in Śniadeckich Street? What were the beginnings?
– I have always liked food. During my studies, I worked as a waiter at a Parisian bistro and there I became addicted to food.
I was 19 years old. There were three of us: a cook, bartender and myself. I used to serve 60 people. Additionally, I prepared sandwiches and croque-monsieurs.
Now, you serve them at your own place.
– That’s right. It is the most popular dish of our clients. It is simple, universal and perfect to serve all day long.
What have you learnt working as a waiter?
– I’ve learnt what hard work really means. In the beginning, I wanted to kill the man that was standing behind the bar. The atmosphere was tense. However, after three days, I wanted to thank him because I learnt a great deal. It is just like in an army. You have to get used to the discipline, sanitary conditions and fast reaction time.
Is there also such a military discipline in your kitchen?
– No, not really. However, there are always tensions when two people serve breakfast for few dozen of customers. It has to be a well-oiled machine. I would like people to fancy working here because good service is extremely important.
What did you study? What were your interests?
– Law and, later on, economics. There was a lot of pressure in the sixteenth district of Paris, where I lived – no art schools. When the opportunity arose, I immediately went to Poland to do what I wanted.
Where does this Poland come from?
– My close friend was of Polish origin. We knew each other since we were three years old. When he returned with his family to Poland, I started visiting him regularly. We were sixteen years old when he left.
Do you remember your first visit?
– Sure. It was the year 2000. I traveled by bus: Konin, Łódź, Zachodni Railway station. I remember an evening in Krakowskie Przedmieście: -20 degrees Celsius, gloomy, empty. I enjoyed everything. I recollect our first bar – Metal in the Old Town, our first Żywiec. And a pile of snow. I had a lot of stories to tell my friends.
Together with my friend, we wanted to set up our own business. We came up with the idea to export old Polish wood to build summer houses around Europe. It was all going very well. Maybe too well at some point. The business finished as quickly as it had started and I came back to Paris. It was a lesson in humility.
You took a step backward.
– I started work in an advertising agency. We used to meet with clients at excellent restaurants and then I started again to think about gastronomy. I lived alone, started cooking, experimented, searched for good products and started looking for a place.
Places in Paris turned out to be more expensive?
– No, not really. Prices of rent in Warsaw and Paris are unfortunately comparable. I had this thought in my mind that since I already knew the language and I liked Poland so why not try here?
In Poland, French cuisine was expensive and perceived as something elegant. But I wanted to show it in a different light, as something cheaper. You come to my bar as if you were visiting me at home. The atmosphere has to be warm and friendly.
And this is how it was at Mônsieur Lèon.
– For example someone came inside, asking what kind of place it was. At the time it happened, I was cutting a chunk of cheese and treated him to a slice to taste it. He stayed longer.
All products were imported from France. If you happen to be there, I recommend a huge market outside Paris – Le Marché de Rungis. It is said it is the biggest food market in Europe. This is where I found producers. I was searching for sheep cheese in the vicinity of my home in the Pyrenees. I was traveling in the mountains, tasting cheese, it was super cool. Clients who visited our bistro immediately saw a difference.
Thus, I didn’t employ anyone – I wanted to invest in high-quality products and offer them at reasonable prices. I had to sell something which is normally more expensive in Paris for a cheaper price. I will not become businessman of the year, for sure.
And who is Mônsieur Lèon? Is it a specific person?
– No, it’s the guy who usually sits around at the bar in Paris and slowly sips a glass of wine.
For us, you will always be an ambassador of French cuisine. But at Krem you also serve Polish products.
– I just want to offer good products. It is worth looking for them. And in Poland, there is a great variety of things. Seasons are very distinct here. There are so many vegetables and fruits with such an intense smell. Suddenly, you have strawberries everywhere, mushrooms, or bilberries. Maybe the growing period is shorter than in France, but it stimulates your creativity to cook seasonal cuisine.
This evolution is natural, I am more and more Polish and this place reflects my second nature. That’s why you can taste Polish blood sausage in my French pâté.
Krem, Śniadeckich St 18, open everyday apart from Mondays, from 9 PM – 11 PM, on Sunday 9 AM – 8 PM.
Text: Agnieszka Kowalska
Photo: Aga Bilska