Migrating birds navigate across oceans and continents using atoms called radical pairs that guide them like a compass. These atoms lose or gain electrons in unison, then the earth’s magnetic field thrusts them, spinning, changing directions, into a waltz that is over in one-millionth of a second. Proteins and chemicals in birds’ eyes perceive this dance, and it leads them home.
Krem Miskevich, the chef behind new-to-Tucson pop-up Good Pierogi, loves to dance. The connections they have made through feeding people have cast them across the globe before landing here.
“I am able to connect with people, whether strangers or friends, in the best way, which is by feeding them,” they said. “If I could just not talk and just sing and dance, that’s when I’d be happiest.”
Good Pierogi is a nomadic operation. Krem has migrated between continents, and across them, many times. Though they’re not the kind of person who likes doing the same thing over and over again, they decided to go into the business of pierogi because it was the pandemic, dumplings make people happy and they missed the ones they grew up eating in Poland.
“Nostalgia for Poland is what made me make Good Pierogi. Out west, there’s no good Polish food. I miss the food. I miss my friends,” Krem said.
Good Pierogi is their dumpling pop-up. Krem launched it in Los Angeles, the city where their dad has some family. Though Krem brings the pop-up to other places (for instance, when they worked as a private chef on Martha’s Vineyard for the past two summers), Krem and their pierogi are settling down in Tucson.
Good Pierogi will make a farmers market debut at the Udall Park market this Friday. You’ll have the choice between two flavors: the Ruskie, made with farmers cheese, potato, caramelized onions, black pepper and marjoram; or the sauerkraut and mushroom flavor with dates, mustard seeds and caramelized onion. Krem will be selling handmade frozen pierogi until their custom canopy is delivered — a prerequisite for selling hot food at markets — hopefully in a few weeks.
“I always feel like I’m here by accident,” Krem said. Their citizenship feels coincidental: their dad was naturalized here when he came as a child; Krem didn’t grow up with their dad but he took them to the U.S. Embassy when they were 18 to get their U.S. passport.
“My dad gave me the passport and this face,” Krem said.
Krem first heard about Tucson when they were a teenager in Poland, obsessed with the United States and scheming about party schools to attend with their best friend. “U of A was the ultimate party school. It was to party,” Krem said with a tone of admission.
Krem is sober now, but the University of Arizona still was an instigating force in bringing them to Tucson. They met their partner, Anna, on Martha’s Vineyard two summers ago, where Krem fled on a whim after a devastating breakup in LA. Anna was working on their masters in fine arts from the UA, and graduated last spring into a job at The Land With No Name Sanctuary. For a while, Krem would come to Tucson to rest and visit Anna. Now they live here, together.
“I call Anna, Anka,” Krem said. “It’s Polish.”
Krem, for the first time, is ready to stay still for a bit.
“I’m a small town boy,” Krem said.
Krem was miserable in LA, but LA liked Krem: it’s where they went to culinary school for nine months and built a career at Kismet, a Middle Eastern restaurant that has been lauded by many, including the Michelin guide and food critic Jonathan Gold. It’s where Krem met the graphic designer obsessed with Polish movie posters who created Good Pierogi’s signature art. It’s where they were first written about in the Los Angeles Times.
The city burnt them out, the traffic and the anonymity — not the work. “I love to work,” Krem said, a trait they attribute to having six planets in Capricorn.
Their work is how they earn a living, but, of course, it’s an act of service and expression, too.
“I can’t help it. I take great pleasure in feeding people,” Krem said. “But it’s important to me that people know I am there, too. What they’re eating is me.”
Krem’s identity is central to the project: when Krem feeds you, you’re consuming (being nourished by) a part of who they are, what they create.
Krem is queer and the food is queer. Krem is sober but they love and share Polish drinking food. The flavors that they elect to share and innovate upon are artifacts of their body’s memory, of the place they were raised and the flavors informed by their experience.
“People talk about separating art from the artist — I don’t think I can separate myself from my food. I cook the things I like to eat. I cook things the way I like to eat them,” Krem said. “I wanted to make delicious food for myself, and then it became a career path.”
Cooking has allowed them to live in beautiful places across two continents: Barcelona, Spain; Copenhagen, Denmark; LA; Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. They have hosted pop-ups in Baja California and are in talks to bring Good Pierogi to Paris for a night.
“Besides liking to cook, that’s one reason I wanted to work in a restaurant — they’re everywhere,” Krem said. “I wanted to get a little money to explore the place and live my life. It’s not a surprise to me that my business just moves around. I subconsciously built it this way.”
But for now they’re seeking stability in Tucson, and to accumulate the funds needed to open a restaurant of their own.
“I’m someone who gets easily bored with stuff. My goal is to open a bistro — Eastern-European-inspired, but not married, you know?” Krem said. “I’d like there to be a little cold case where people can grab their pierogi, the sour cream, the caviar, some sauerkraut I make, you know, pickles and all that. Maybe some smoked fish or pickled fish. And then also have a dining area, where you can eat very good food in an unfussy environment for a reasonable price. I want it to be approachable to anyone. If someone wants to spend $80 a person, they can, but if a person wants to spend 20 bucks and leave fed, they definitely will.”
“Beef tartare, pickled fish, a Polish version of a loaded potato, smoked sausages, smoked fish, schnitzels, chicken kiev — there’s a lot, there’s a lot,” Krem said.
“I’m just starting to get to know the Sonoran Desert. I would love to be able to incorporate what the land here gives us into Eastern-European cuisine. Apply some techniques from my country to the foods here. Lacto-fermented barrel cactus fruit. That’s the goal, down the line,” Krem said. “I have everything I need to do this, besides the money.”
Locations: Udall Park farmers market, 7202 E. Tanque Verde Road | Green Valley farmers market, 101 South La Cañada Dr., Green Valley.
Hours: The farmers market at Udall Park is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday | The farmers market in Green Valley is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday.
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