Exploring the world one cuisine at a time (highlighting Ursula Korus)

By Abby Scalf

Ursula Korus of Bartlett stirs her Moroccan stew before adding more vegetables.

Ursula Korus remembers cooking Polish favorites with her mom at her childhood home in Tarnow, Poland. When given the chance to create on her own, she’d make desserts for her father. Some of the treats were as simple as vanilla wafers with sliced bananas on top.

“I would think at the time it was a great creation,” she said. “ … I just loved being in the kitchen and playing with food.”

Now living in Barlett, Ursula’s playing has evolved into a true passion to cook and explore ethnic foods. Last summer, Ursula dabbled in Indian cuisine, making chicken tikka masala and a roasted eggplant dish that becomes a sauce for rice. This summer, she plans to tour Indonesia via the country’s cuisine.

“Any time I try something that is a little different from I’m used to eating, I fall in love with so many different flavors,” she said. “Anyone who loves to cook will tell you being able to try different cuisines and challenging yourself is always so fun. I ask myself ‘How could I live without that?’”

Yet there is one ethnic cuisine she will not make.

“When I grew up and moved out, I vowed not to cook Polish food. When I want comfort food, I will go to my mom’s house,” she says. “My fiance complains that the one thing that he craves are pierogies. I won’t make it. I tell him go to my mom’s house.”

Her fiance is not be allowed in the kitchen, yet he has inspired Ursula to pursue dishes closer to home.

“I was so focused on exploring dishes outside our country that I didn’t look within our nation and cuisines that may be wonderful,” she says. “He turned me on to Southern cooking. He recalled a crawfish boil he had that was awesome, and another dish was shrimp and grits. Now it is one of my favorite dishes.”

As she grew more confident in the kitchen she encouraged herself to see how her food would be received by a broader audience and submitted a recipe for a contest at Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant in South Barrington. She entered, she said, with an ulterior motive, to meet the owner and to network. She won on both front: her Mediterranean Pot Roast was a finalist and she now serves as director of the restaurant’s wine club.

“It validated that there (the restaurant) is where I want to be,” she says. “I want to open a restaurant some day.”

Her immediate plan to host Mother’s Day brunch.

“I’ve been planning the menu. I’ve been so excited,” Ursula says. “I would entertain every day if I could.”

• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook’s name, address and phone number to Deborah Pankey c/o Cook of the Week, Daily Herald Food section, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or to food@dailyherald.com.

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