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Two Veselkas, One Chef and a Secret

If you live in the East Village, chances are you’ve been to Veselka, the iconic Ukranian restaurant on the corner of Second Avenue and Ninth Street, and tasted its classic beet soup — borscht. What you might not know, however, is that that the restaurant owes its signature dish to Malgosia Sibilska, who has been almost single-handedly preparing Veselka’s borscht since emigrating to the East Village from Poland nearly 30 years ago.

“Way back then, we weren’t making nearly the volume of food that we are now,” says Tom Birchard, the owner of the East Village landmark, “but as the volume has increased, increased, increased, Malgosia keeps making more, and more, and more. And she hasn’t complained.”

And, Mr. Birchard says, over the years the process of preparing the dish has become so complicated and intricate that Ms. Sibilska is the only one who knows precisely how to make Veselka’s signature version of the dish. Sure, Mr. Birchard says, other chefs at Veselka can make borscht, but even he concedes that no one else’s quite matches Ms. Sibilska’s.

“When she goes on vacation, it is a moderate hardship for us,” says Mr. Birchard, “it’s never quite as good as when she is there.”

With Veselka opening a new location opening up on the Bowery and First Street, the restaurant is considering moving all of the borscht production to the new venue, and training someone new to copy Ms. Sibilska’s exact recipe.

Before the change occurs, The Local visits Veselka’s kitchen to speak with Ms. Sibilska about her somewhat-secret recipe.

NYU Journalism’s M.J. Gonzalez reports.