Growing up in Roselle Park, Martyna Krowicka was as happily freaked out by Silence of the Lambs as any other moviegoer. But its most chilling line—Anthony Hopkins’s “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”—still sticks in her craw.
“Favas,” she explains, “are my most favorite bean in the world. I think people don’t like them because of that line. And also because they probably never had them cooked right.”
She did. Born in Poland, she moved with her family to New Jersey when she was four, but went back in summer to garden, forage and cook with her paternal grandmother. “We would pick favas, boil and salt them, squeeze the skin and pop the meat right into our mouths. It was my favorite snack.”
Krowicka, 29, has come long a long way, earning a degree from the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan in 2009 and rising in 2015 to become chef of Restaurant Latour at the Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg. In this role, she creates exceptional dishes that combine her love of art (she paints and draws) with her reverence for great ingredients, be they humble as favas or sublime as sea urchin.
Women are gaining ground in leadership roles in the restaurant business, but they are still a minority. Of the 275 inductees in the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America, which dates to 1984, roughly one-third are women. (They include Hoboken restaurateur and author Maricel Presilla and Chatham native Alice Waters.)
Krowicka’s talent, imagination and intense work ethic were essential to her ascent, but so was chef Anthony Bucco, who recognized her qualities early and took her ambition seriously.
“I’ve had her in four kitchens, beginning with Uproot in Warren,” says Bucco, 41, who, as executive chef of the Crystal Springs Resort, is her boss and still her mentor. “She’s an incredible student of the game. I’ve seen her grow in every role.
“Martyna has a very blue-collar approach,” he continues. “She reads, travels, tastes, embraces what is topical, has a sense of play, is super creative and deft. But she’ll also go under the sink to change a gasket, jump in to solve any problem.”
At Uproot, Bucco put Krowicka in charge of hot appetizers. “I never saw anybody who was as quiet as her,” he says. “But she got every dish to the window on time and made some totally banging gnocchi that became a signature item.”
To gain New York experience, Krowicka worked for sustainability-proponent John Mooney at Bell, Book and Candle before rejoining Bucco when he took over the kitchen of Hamilton Farm Country Club in Gladstone. Their next move, a big one, was to Ryland Inn when veteran restaurateurs Frank and Jean Cretella revived it in 2012. Elevated to sous chef, Krowicka took charge of the meat and garde manger stations, trained younger staff and thrived under enormous pressure. When Bucco left in 2014, she joined chef Alex Stupak’s famous Empellón Taqueria in Greenwich Village until Bucco brought her to Latour when he joined Crystal Springs in 2015.
“Empellón was about high-volume, fast-paced cooking,” she says, “but learning Mexican showed me new spices and flavor combinations and ways to add boldness to simple dishes.”
As an example, she cites a recent octopus dish she serves with a hummus intensified with roasted carrots, carrot juice and sweet, fermented black garlic.
At Latour, Krowicka continues to grow under Bucco’s tutelage. “He’s my mentor, boss, friend and almost family,” she says. “I’m running one of the best kitchens in New Jersey, but I still have a lot to learn. I go to him for everything. Over time, he’s increasingly entrusted me to take it by the reins.”
For his part, Bucco says, “Martyna’s über-talented. She needs a little direction in nuancing her dishes, but she guides her cooks, fosters their success and has an amazing aesthetic. I don’t think she’s even remotely close to hitting her ceiling.”
When it comes to desserts, it’s Bucco who speaks like an acolyte. “I’ve been running kitchens for 15 years,” he says, “and I consider my pastry programs almost remedial. I’m in awe of hers. And she’s completely self-taught.”
Krowicka developed her sweet tooth with her Polish grandmother, picking fresh strawberries, sprinkling them with sugar and eating them with fresh-made sour cream. As an American kid, she loved Good Humor bars and recently created a playful Latour dessert that she likens to “a strawberry shortcake Good Humor bar.” Among her more sophisticated marvels is Earl Grey ice cream encircled by a band of dark-chocolate ganache on an espresso crumble.
Krowicka and Bucco partner with a perfectionist who makes them look like pikers. That is Robby Younes, the resort’s 37-year-old vice president of hospitality and lodging and director of wine. A connoisseur of food and drink, cigars, bespoke haberdashery, hunting dogs and vintage Land Rovers, also an accomplished equestrian and marksman, Younes is a gentleman taskmaster.
“I am always the guy who is never satisfied,” he says with relish. “I challenge them on everything. I make them miserable with my detailed notes.
“But,” he hastens to add, “I love them both. It took me years to find a leader of Anthony’s caliber. And in Martyna, he has someone who creates food in such a humble way, but the food is not humble at all. She makes the magic look easy.”