Climbing into a chicken coop behind the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, Kasia Dabrowska shows no fear. The chef handles each bird carefully, even balancing one on her arm as it clucks and coos.
“These guys are about 6 weeks old,” said Ms. Dabrowska, a native of Poland. “They’re mixed breeds; one is a mix of silkie and some kind of heritage hen.”
The chickens are just part of the agenda in her role as the restaurant’s new chef. She’s also planting a hydroponic garden on the property and preparing for a busy summer events season at the historic inn on South Jamesport Avenue.
Starting anew and balancing a full plate are both things the 39-year-old is accustomed to. Her family left Warsaw as political refugees when she was just 4 years old, spending a year in an Austrian refugee camp before emigrating to the U.S. in 1982.
After their arrival, her family moved around a lot, living for a while in Buffalo, then Brooklyn, before settling in Patchogue.
That transience has carried over to Ms. Dabrowska’s professional life, too. She initially got into cooking only as a secondary career. During the day she held various desk jobs, like accounting, and worked in restaurants at night to help pay for school. She later enrolled in Suffolk County Community College’s Culinary Arts Program in Riverhead.
“I had to have a normal job, but I always had the restaurant job, too,” she said. “I started to get more into it and realized I really liked it.”
After graduating, Ms. Dabrowska worked for several restaurants in the area, including Cowfish and Rumba in Hampton Bays. Last year, she cooked at the new PeraBell Food Bar East in Riverhead, before taking the helm at the Jedediah Hawkins.
Ms. Dabrowska realizes she got into the restaurant game a little late, but is making a successful go of it anyway.
“Being older in this profession, I have to figure out how to utilize my brand to promote the restaurant to get people to come and taste my food, because that’s what it’s really about,” she said.
Jedediah Hawkins Inn owner Lia Polites is a firm supporter of the Dabrowska brand.
“Chef Kasia’s cooking reflects her energy, inventiveness and passion for the North Fork,” Ms. Polites said. “She is adding her unique signature to the experience at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn.”
That inventiveness includes her plan to establish the garden at the restaurant, which was built by her husband. It’s already growing lettuce, spinach and arugula. Irrigated by a rainwater tank and powered through solar energy, it’s nearly 100 percent self-sufficient.
And then there are the chickens, which Ms. Dabrowska has taken to assigning names, like Sassy and Deadpool.
“The chickens won’t produce enough [eggs] to sustain the restaurant, but it will be something nice to offer to our in-house guests,” she said.
In the kitchen, Ms. Dabrowska is working closely with sous chef Sarah Bonocore, a classmate in the culinary arts program. Their familiarity with each other has quickly led to a symbiotic relationship, Ms. Bonocore said.
“We took the same program and were lucky enough to intern together in Florence,” Ms. Bonocore said. “She called me one day and said, ‘I have a great opportunity for us.’ She didn’t want to do it with anybody else, so I said let’s do it.”
“It’s almost like working with the same person because she has the same experience that I do,” Ms. Dabrowska added.
Familiarity has also made its way onto the menu at the restaurant. Ms. Dabrowska said she’s always been inspired by her mother’s great cooking, so she’s looking to incorporate a “little bit of Polish” when she can. The chef’s family pierogi recipe has already made an appearance on the menu, as have some other Polish pastas.
“The next Polish dish will probably be a dessert,” she said. “I’m still working on it, but it may be a dessert pierogi — and there’s a chocolate cake that’s very popular in Poland. I’m working out the recipe.”
She’s also been serving a kielbasa slider that will disappear when the menu changes to lighter summer fare.
“It’s very important the menu be a transitional menu and we transition from spring into summer into fall, with all the ingredients that are locally available,” the chef said. “I’ve started reaching out to the local farmers and touring their farms to get more ideas. I want people to come and eat the food and let it speak for itself; that’s important to me.”