2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Chefs Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski of Apteka

2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Chefs Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski of Apteka
November 2016

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski are a pair of Pittsburghers with a background in policy, who fell for each other, and the industry, during the long and unforgiving hours of work for a pop-up restaurant they launched in 2010. Skowronski, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Poland shortly before he was born, was keen to serve some of his Eastern European food to his friends. While continuing to work at other restaurants and bakeries in Pittsburgh, the couple found that their following at pop-up Pierogi Night grew from its original 30 attendees, to a group of more than 400 pierogi lovers. 

While pinching pierogis, Lasky and Skowronski made plans for a restaurant. They sourced the funding with Kickstarter, and, in February 2016, they opened their vegan restaurant and bar Apteka. Located in Lawrenceville, on the river in the northeastern part of Pittsburgh, the neighborhood has an artsy-funky feel which seems to fit the personality of the concept.

At Apteka, in addition to the filled dumplings, Lasky and Skowronski have expanded their menu taking their inspiration for new dishes from Skowronski’s familial roots in Warsaw, as well as from their extensive travels throughout that region. Earthy flavors of beetroot, barley, sage, and mushrooms are offset with sour cream and pickled vegetables. Like Pierogi Night before it, Apteka has won the hearts of many Pittsburghers and continues to grow.



Interview with Rust Belt Rising Star Chefs Kate Lasky and Thomasz Skowronski of Apteka

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Tomasz Skowronski:
Kate started first. Kate was a high schooler. There was a cafe down the street, and she stayed there six to eight years. The owners are still great friends. From day one, she had to figure out the menu all the time. Our carrot pâté is really simple, but it comes from that cafe. In the meantime, after I finished school, I started bartending to make money.

The business started as a pop-up Pierogi Night. And the first was a complete disaster. We were weeping and drunk at the end of the night. We rebounded from that and learned fast what you can and can’t do. In the meantime, we though that if we’re serious, then we should start working in other places. Kate worked the line at Root 174, and had a great time with that. Then I started working at E2 with Kate. I wanted to get a sense of how to run a restaurant, and was also a baker at La Gourmandine for a while. 

CH: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
Kate Lasky: Time and delegation. We’re involved in every aspect of the business. Thomasz is planting the backyard. We did all of the design. We want to figure out how to make time for the things we want to be doing, and put more effort into the space.

CH: Tell me about a dish that represents how you’ve progressed?
KLTS:
Kartofle z Jogurtem: a dish of small, gold potatoes cooked and served with a delicate yogurt that we culture from nuts, along with raw sauerkraut that we ferment with apples, sweet and tart lingonberries, and dried apple scattered on top. It’s simple, but it has good balance. 

CH: Tell me about your creative process.
KL:
We have a couple sources. One is Thomaz’s background and going back to Warsaw every summer and for Christmas. There’s a unique experience through his family. They’re own a big urban plot in the center of Warsaw. He grew up with going to this orchard that’s almost size of this building. There are also common practices from food shortages during communism.
TS: We both traveled a lot as vegan people, and we sought out different foods. We traveled a lot as eaters. When Kate went to Oaxaca, she noticed lots of details, like the tacos old ladies were making. They were roasting pumpkin seeds and turning them into a powder. Those details are what make a dish. 

CH: What's your five year plan?
KL:
We have nothing but goals. We’re stiff still. We’re scared to step out because we don’t have systems in place where we can bring in more dishes. When someone brings in a basket of something, it’s hard to incorporate it. We want to be really versatile, and make the most of the best product. We are very much people who walk through the woods and nibble on a lot of stuff. There’s zero time, no minutes in the day to do anything. We have notebooks filled with ideas, and we’d like to get to them. We want to build out backyard, but right now it’s still Dutch boy finger in the dike. By August, we’ll be able to tackle the menu in a way that’s satisfying to us. We want to improve next year, and get systems in place as soon as possible. We want to pull this off well, so that it’s not just good for Pittsburgh but good nationally.