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Budapest: Chefs and culinary makers

Meet the chefs and makers behind Budapest’s top food experiences, from the farmer producing gourmet charcuterie to the man who established Hungary’s first ‘DIY restaurant’.

By Peterjon Cresswell
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:00 BST
Ádám Lendvai, founder of The Makery
Ádám Lendvai, founder of The Makery.
Photograph by Demeter David

The wine-matcher: Ádám Barna, head chef at St Andrea Wine & Gourmet Bar
“I didn’t learn my trade alongside a star chef,” admits Ádám Barna, who started out at a castle hotel and hunting lodge restaurant near Gyula, southeast Hungary. He later moved to a five-star hotel in Austria, but returned to Gyula when he could. “Every month, the Corvin Wine Club would meet for blind tastings, sampling and comparing. That’s how I got to know the new Hungarian producers.” And when St Andrea winery approached Ádám to head up its new Budapest restaurant, he jumped at the chance. “I had an instinct for which wine to pair with which dish. Our menu changes according to the season — but our motto, ‘Hungarian flavours open to the world’, is our mainstay.”

The pioneer: Ákos Sárközi, head chef at Textúra & Borkonyha
On downtown Sas utca, Ákos Sárközi has just unveiled his new restaurant, Textúra. It’s a spoon’s throw from where he and his colleagues Zoltán Kalocsai and Tamás Horváth won a Michelin star for Borkonyha in 2014. Old friends Tamás and Zoltán wanted to serve bistro food created with top-notch Hungarian produce, and Ákos was little-known when the pair discovered him. “The Michelin star took my life in a fantastic direction. The award wasn’t the goal; it was so surprising and euphoric.” As for Textúra: “I developed its concept,” Ákos says. “It’s a relaxed, quality-orientated Hungarian restaurant, where we use the finest ingredients.”

The farmer: Zsóka Fekete, owner of Mangalica Farm
“Hungarians are surprised when they see a young woman running a large pig farm,” says Zsóka Fekete. “But I’m up at 6am and yes, I take the pigs to slaughter. I then process the meat back at the farm.” And these aren’t just any pigs. They’re mangalica — a woolly cross-breed of wild boar and Serbian Šumadija hogs. When Zsóka took over the 150-acre site in Hajdúböszörmény, she bought 20 sows, only to find the herd doubled as so many were pregnant. She attended her first annual Budapest Mangalica Festival in 2013, where her pork products won first prize, and now her core business is in the capital. “I sell at Lehel market and to high-end restaurants like Costes, Gundel and Tigris,” she says. Zsóka also offers visits to her farm, culminating in guests sampling her salami, sausage and ham. “We feed our pigs the high-quality, organic crops we grow here,” she says. “The meat is exceptionally healthy and tasty.”

Zsóka Fekete, owner of Mangalica Farm.

The celebrity favourite: Árpád Győrffy, head chef at Kollázs Brasserie & Bar
“I worked at fine-dining restaurants in London, France and Austria,” says Árpád Győrffy, describing his culinary journey before landing at Kollázs Brasserie & Bar, at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. An art nouveau masterpiece overlooking the Danube, the Gresham is where many stars stay — and dine. “After 12 years in fine dining, it was a challenge to adapt to a brasserie style. Here a dish has to be simple, and that’s no easy task. We must also embrace French and Hungarian culinary traditions.” And cooking for Matt Damon — no pressure? “No, it’s no extra pressure — rather, an honour. We treat every guest in exactly the same way.”

The rising tsar: Eszter Palágyi, head chef at Costes
As head chef of Costes, Budapest’s first Michelin-starred restaurant, Eszter Palágyi is at the forefront of the city’s gastronomic revolution. Yet, when she started out she wouldn’t have dreamed of such acclaim. “It wasn’t a conscious decision that I’d be a Michelin-starred chef,” she says, at her intimate restaurant. Eszter learned under Portuguese masterchef Miguel Rocha Vieira, who earned Costes that star, and it became her job to keep it. “Every year I innovate,” she says. “I needed to find my own identity, and be more creative. For 2019, we have a specially designed pack of cards as the menu. I’m also using my family recipes, so the Hungarian gastronomy here is even more personal.”

Photograph by Dancsecs Ferenc

The innovator: Ádám Lendvai, founder of The Makery
At first glance, The Makery could be any establishment in the cool Jewish Quarter. But, at what bills itself itself as Hungary’s first DIY restaurant, diners become chefs — at least for two hours. “My first venture in the food trade,” recalls founder Ádám Lendvai, “was to send out pushcarts done up like vintage trams selling bagels and pastries. Customers started asking about creating their own fillings, and that became The Makery.” Once his guests have chosen from the menu of Hungarian and international dishes, staff bring a platter of ingredients and a step-by-step video. “Making something together is rare these days. There’s a sense of satisfaction,” says Ádám.

Published in the Hungary, a culinary journey supplement distributed with National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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