Constable: Polish American actress from Bartlett hosts 'Flavor of Poland'
Born in the small medieval town of Tuchów, Poland, Aleksandra Augustynski moved to Bartlett with her parents, Marta and Tomasz, when she was 3 years old.
"I grew up with this dual reality," Augustynski says in her traditional Midwestern accent that makes her a versatile American actress. "Everything outside of home was American. The minute I'd go home, it was Polish. I come from a family of Polish patriots. There was no question about me or my siblings forgetting where we come from."
Now the 32-year-old actress has a role that couldn't fit her better as the host of the new culinary travel television series "Flavor of Poland," airing at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WTTW in the Chicago area and other Public Broadcasting Service stations across the nation.
"I have one solid foot planted on the Polish side, and one solid foot planted on the American side," she says.
A graduate of Streamwood High School and Northwestern University, Augustynski also graduated from Emilia Plater Polish School, where she aced her national matura graduation exam, and could give speeches and write papers in perfect Polish. She uses the last name August in her new TV role traveling across Poland and sharing meals, culture and history.
She had been to Poland a few times to see relatives in Tuchów and Iwkowa, the nearby birthplace of her mom, but didn't realize all that Poland had to offer tourists.
"It's about time we shared some of that information," Augustynski says. "Even I was surprised at how diverse Poland is."
During filming for "Flavor of Poland," which spanned three years and finished last summer, Augustynski partook in a variety of cultures, climates, traditions and food. She went sailing in the Masurian Lake District in northeastern Poland, where her father used to sail. She dined on roasted duck in Kraków.
She tasted Chef Andrzej Ławniczak's "Amber Soup," a fish broth made from the finest cuts of fish from the Baltic Sea flavored with bits of fossilized resin and seaweed. "All the gifts of Mother Nature and Father Neptune," the chef told her.
She drank wine from Polish vineyards, slurped red beet soup with uszka (dumplings), enjoyed sour rice soup with herbs and forest mushrooms, and found new spins on classic food.
"It comes from the land and tradition, but it's also new," Augustynski says. Dishes made with millet and buckwheat can be healthy, too. Polish food often seems confined to pierogies and fried paczki in the U.S.
"There is so much more than that," she says.
The scenery can be just as appetizing, Augustynski says, noting the majesty of the mountain resort of Zakopane in the southern Podhale territory of Poland. In Bacówka, a popular Polish restaurant in Schaumburg, Augustynski poses in front of a giant poster of those mountain peaks, which is "where the soul of Poland lives," she says.
The suburbs play key roles in the series, which is produced by Edyta Slusarczyk and Robert Wachowiak at Independent Film Factory in Wheeling.
The series "will present Poland to Americans in a way like they have not seen yet, showcasing its beauty, traditions, monuments history as well as modernity, and of course a full range of unique flavors," Slusarczyk says in an email. "We can reach many millions of Americans, show them how beautiful Poland is and hopefully encourage them to visit our country."
A major financial supporter of the series is the Polish & Slavic Federal Credit Union, with branches in Schaumburg, Mount Prospect and Glendale Heights, as well as Baron Chocolatier, a Polish brand that sells in the suburbs. Augustynski also gives thanks to all the officials in the Polish government, museums and towns the show visited.
"This is the first show of its kind about Poland," Augustynski says, noting that the show is in English to appeal to the American audience. Those involved are hoping for a second season of "Flavor of Poland."
While food is the show's focal point, Augustynski says the history and culture of Poland come through as well. The country has been occupied by foreign invaders many times in the past millennium, but the Polish identity survives, she says.
"Time and time again, these people have had to fight for what is theirs and keep their identity alive," says Augustynski, whose grandparents survived World War II and parents grew up in a Communist-ruled Poland. Warsaw, the capital and largest city, is symbolic of all that Poland has endured.
"The fact that it is so vibrant and alive and doing so well today, that's the story of heroes to me," Augustynski says. "And that's why it has a special place in my heart."