With a population topping a million in the UK alone, Polish influences have been seeping into the British culture since the influx of migrants following the second world war and a secondary influx in the early 2000s. The rise of Polish shops and supermarkets, are becoming ever more present in town centres, coinciding with the digital boom acting as a segway to a fashionable thirst for alternative global dining experiences.
One of many second generation Poles born and raised in the United Kingdom, Ren Behan was raised on traditional Polish food and traditions thanks to her parents’ pledge to maintain their links to Poland from their home in England. Behan’s upbringing followed her through life, with cooking acting as a therapeutic and enjoyable hobby while she read Contemporary East European Studies at University College London.
Successfully finding a career in law, maternity leave offered Behan time to hone her passion and energy into an alternative entity. Her love of cooking and exploring her Polish roots was enhanced during her transition to motherhood, when Behan started a food blog as a way of documenting her passion for cooking and feeding. As food blogs rose in popularity, Behan recognised a gap in the market for the Polish equivalent for the linguistically English reader.
As a nation, the United Kingdom’s native population was unfamiliar with Polish cuisine, despite its sizeable Polish population. It was stereotyped as being a heavy cuisine, with starch and meat based dishes, such as stew and dumplings. Behan increasingly discovered that this negative association hampered the development of Polish cooking in the UK- adding fuel to the accumulating content for her increasingly popular food blog.
What started as a maternity leave hobby evolved into Behan contributing to titles such as BBC Good Food magazine and JamieOliver.com, with frequent collaborations as both a cook, stylist and food writer. Behan’s positioning in the industry organically led to an offer from a book publisher.
Behan stated, “Being offered a book publishing opportunity by Pavilion Books in the UK was a career defining moment I will not forget. There were plenty of avenues I could have explored for my debut book, but it felt right to hone in on the Polish cook inside me. I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do. Looking back, I’m glad I trusted my gut instinct.”
The author continues, “My publishing deal guided further research trips to develop my theme of balancing traditional and modern Polish recipes and food trends. I was blown away by the revolution of cooking which Poland had experienced, how our famously fresh ingredients were being taken to new heights while not loosing their Polish identity. It was exhilarating to see that modern interpretation.”
Behan confirmed, “The book became less of a nostalgic collection of old traditional Polish dishes, but a modern evolution of the Polish relationship with food. I vowed to stay true to the traditional elements of Polish food, seasonal ingredients and cooking methods; while introducing innovative recipes and ideas which honours heritage but added a flavour profile we had yet to commercialise.”
Behan brings traditional ingredients such as potatoes, Polish grains, beetroot, mushrooms and cabbage to new strengths – particularly as pickles and ferments have gained in popularity, too. With Poland’s capital Warsaw now boasting the country’s debut Michelin Star, it is evident how Poland’s culinary footprint is adapting both in its birth country and in the United Kingdom and beyond.
The refreshingly varied style of Behan has seen her holding her own against competing publications, though dominance in her niche has already proven its worth with a second print run being commissioned in the States by Behan’s US publisher’s Interlink Books. As Ukraine and Russian food also face their own fad trends through popular recipe books, the author has positioned herself as the Polish cook and food writer to take note of.
Behan’s next adventure will take her back to Poland with Emmy award-winning US-based director Jan Maliszewski to film a short food documentary series on the changing scope of Polish cuisine.
Find out more on Ren Behan and her book Wild Honey and Rye at: http://www.renbehan.com.
About Ren Behan
Ren Behan is a British food writer of Polish descent, inspired by both her heritage and the fast-changing food landscape in Poland. The ex-lawyer and mother of three swapped the courtroom for the kitchen and has contributed to a number of prominent online publications such as JamieOliver.com, GreatBritishChefs.com and her own highly popular blog. Ren is represented by Heather Holden Brown at HHB Agency in London.
For more information on Ren Behan and Wild Honey and Rye go to: www.renbehan.com.