‘I want people to have fun!’ TFN sits down with Warsaw’s Michelin star chef Andrea Camastra to talk about his latest venture

Raised in Bari, Italy, but present in Poland for the last seven years, the launch of Andrea Camastra’s latest project has been hailed as a watershed for a sector rendered punch drunk by Covid. Kalbar/TFN

Left in a bludgeoned heap by two protracted lockdowns, evidence that Poland’s restaurant scene is entering a recovery stage has been provided with news of the return of one of the country’s best-loved chefs.

Raised in Bari, Italy, but present in Poland for the last seven years, the launch of Andrea Camastra’s latest project has been hailed as a watershed for a sector rendered punch drunk by Covid.

For Camastra, meanwhile, it marks a new dawn.

Previously earning a Michelin star for his acclaimed Senses restaurant, and entered in Le Chef’s 2019 list of 100 Best Chefs in the World, Camastra saw his dreams melt as the pandemic roared around the world.

Passionate about Poland, during lockdown the chef rejected an array of eye-watering offers to remain in his adopted country.Kalbar/TFN

Speaking to TFN, the chef recalled the day news broke that he would be shutting the doors to his restaurant. “I’ve been working in kitchens since I was 10 never having more than a couple of weeks off. All of a sudden, it was so strange to be waking up with nothing to do and just watching on the news the world crumbling in front of your eyes.”

Regardless of the impact Covid would have on his legendary Warsaw restaurant, Camastra did not lick his wounds.

“I’m a strong character,” he says, “and while I didn’t enjoy what happened it did at least give me the opportunity to reassess who I was – to think about my past, present and future. I had the chance to really analyse what I wanted from life.”

However, what wasn’t up for question was his geographic base. Passionate about Poland, the chef rejected an array of eye-watering offers to remain in his adopted country.

Known for its scientific, note-by-note approach, Camastra’s new restaurant Nuta will introduce “more artisanal skills that maybe weren’t so apparent previously,” he says.Kalbar/TFN

“I had hundreds of opportunities from all over the world,” he says. “Tokyo, New York, Dubai, South Africa, UK, you name it. And some of the numbers being mentioned were ridiculous, especially from Dubai. So yes temptation was there, but at that point I was almost 40 – I didn’t want to move again.”

Partially, this was down to the roots he had laid down, but his decision was also influenced by the sense of unfinished business.

“My friends are here, my future wife as well. I’m firmly established in Poland both personally and professionally, and besides, I really wanted to finish off what I had started at Senses.

“A friend told me that ‘a real champion does it twice’, and I think that’s the way I decided to approach my future here.”

Previously earning a Michelin star for his acclaimed Senses restaurant, and entered in Le Chef’s 2019 list of 100 Best Chefs in the World, Camastra saw his dreams melt as the pandemic roared around the world.Kalbar/TFN

Starting from scratch once again, his latest concept has arisen on Warsaw’s prestigious Three Crosses Square in an address formerly occupied by the city’s other starred restaurant, Atelier Amaro.

“We’d been looking at other locations and came close to signing a couple of deals,” says Camastra, “but when I saw this space I knew it was right. People are always likely to make comparisons between chefs and restaurants, but I’ve never seen it as a competition. I have the highest respect for Modest [Amaro], so choosing this location was entirely incidental.”

Featuring a discreet off-street entrance, high ceilings and vast windows offering leafy views, Camastra’s latest venture also came equipped with an open kitchen – a first for the chef.

“I would never have been able to work in an open kitchen before as I used to be quite vocal, but seeing this I felt really comfortable.”

His latest concept has arisen on Warsaw’s prestigious Three Crosses Square in an address formerly occupied by the city’s other starred restaurant, Atelier Amaro.Kalbar/TFN

Besides, says Camastra, the introspection forced by the lockdowns saw him revaluate his nature.

“I’m a lot calmer now,” he says. “Although I had worked in several top Michelin restaurants before, Senses was my own – I had a lot to prove. I don’t think I have to anymore. 

Known for its scientific, note-by-note approach, under Camastra’s stewardship Senses became a bi-word for unexpected gastronomic theatrics. Nuta, his new restaurant, has seen his philosophy tweaked.

“I think you could describe it as one step back, two steps forward,” he says. “From a technical level we remain incredibly high, but I’m also introducing more artisanal skills that maybe weren’t so apparent previously.

“You have to realize, that my culinary background lies in the artisan, and you need that to fully understand modern cuisine. We remain super creative, but other areas have been amplified.”

Featuring a discreet off-street entrance, high ceilings and vast windows offering leafy views, Nuta is also equipped with an open kitchen – a first for the chef.Kalbar/TFN

Among other dishes, Camastra promises an ironic take on the Neapolitan pizza served in miniature and particularly fluffy and crispy.

But it is the Polish classics that are awarded the most prominence, with the chef reinterpreting old recipes through an artistic, modern prism.

“I’m trying to be as local as possible,” he says, “and the fact that people have noticed that during these early sittings says a lot – it’s one thing to tell people what to expect, it’s another when they notice it themselves.”

Neither should the emphasis on artistry be overlooked. “The name Nuta comes from the Italian word for note,” continues Camastra, “and here music is key.”

Among other dishes, Camastra promises an ironic take on the Neapolitan pizza served in miniature and particularly fluffy and crispy. But it is the Polish classics that are awarded the most prominence, with the chef reinterpreting old recipes through an artistic, modern prism.Kalbar/TFN

The son of a part-time piano teacher, the chef’s love of music has followed him since youth.

“I learned piano and the double bass growing up, later I switched to drumming – I’m personally selecting the playlist myself here, and want Nuta to be an artistic place where music, technique and science all come together. In future, I’d even like to pair food with music.”

Defying the well-publicized staffing shortages that have impacted the hospitality and F&B segments, Camastra says he was fortunate enough to swerve such issues. “Everyone here used to work with me before,” he says.

“I’m very privileged in that, and the fact that they’ve show such loyalty I think shows the respect both parties have for each other.

Defying the well-publicized staffing shortages that have impacted the hospitality and F&B segments, Camastra says he was fortunate enough to swerve such issues. “Everyone here used to work with me before,” he says.Kalbar/TFN

“Of course there is a pyramid and a hierarchy, but we remain a bunch of friends who care about this restaurant equally. These are not my workers, they’re my brothers and sisters. My previous success was never simply the Andrea show, it was about all of these guys as well.”

Other Covid-related challenges have not been so simple to skirt. “Currently we’re not even fully-furbished as the supplier is down with coronavirus,” he says, “and that’s one of the reasons we’re currently only open for what we’re calling ‘experimental dinners’. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea and think this is the finished article, because at this level people will be quick to criticize the slightest of things.”

Still, Camastra remains buoyant when questioned about other supply issues effecting product.

“You deal with problems as they come. If something is missing, you find a Plan B. But these things happened before Covid and they’ll happen long after. As a chef you need the skills to improvise, and here we have exactly that.”

In accordance with the changing times, Camastra has also been keen to pull back from the idea of big ticket restaurants where, he says, “you enter to find thirty waiters lined up in bowties.”

“I want people to have fun,” he says. “Moreover, I don’t just want to cook for a certain type of person, I want this restaurant to be more accessible which is why we’ll also have three-course choices for people who are maybe less likely to choose a big tasting menu.”Kalbar/TFN

With the planet moving towards more casual experiences – even before Covid – the chef describes Nuta as world class but not intimidating.

“I want people to have fun,” he says. “Moreover, I don’t just want to cook for a certain type of person, I want this restaurant to be more accessible which is why we’ll also have three-course choices for people who are maybe less likely to choose a big tasting menu.”

And what of the accolades? “In the most humble possible way,” he says, “I think the first star is inevitable and I would be lying if I didn’t say I had further ambitions. Obviously, ultimately three stars is the target and I know we definitely have the talent for that, but it’s not the burning ambition it might otherwise be for a younger chef.

“The bottom line is that you simply need to push yourself to the maximum; always strive to do your best – the rest, that’s down for other people to judge.”