An eclectic gathering of chefs, producers and food industry leaders came together at Terroir Budapest on the 30th October 2017 to explore the fascinating gastronomy and wines of Hungary, and discuss the exciting future of this emerging food destination. The one-day food forum - an offshoot of a successful annual Canadian symposium - was a hive of talks, learning salons, interactive workshops and masterclasses that are sure to reverberate far beyond the characterful walls of Brody Studios, an atmospheric art space in the heart of Budapest. Here are five things we took away from the day.
The identity of a national cuisine
Local food writer and TV host Andras Jokuti welcomed the rise of Hungarian food. “Five years ago I had trouble recommending restaurants in Budapest,” he said. “Now I can recommend at least 30 without any problem.” Fine-dining and Michelin star restaurants showcase the best of Hungarian cuisine, but there are challenges ahead, Jokuti warned. “We need to find a balance to show what we have traditionally, and what we are creating now.”
Alongside new-Hungarian cuisine, there’s also traditional home-cooked Hungarian comfort food. Chef, writer and TV presenter Zsófia Mautner - whose Chili & Vanilia blog was one of Hungary’s first and most influential dedicated food blogs - spoke of the hidden roots of Hungarian gastronomy, dividing it into pre-paprika and post-paprika timelines. She was full of admiration for the food of Transylvania, saying: “It is extremely seasonal and close to nature. It will be an exciting part of our culinary future.”
Hungarian unique products
There’s more to Hungarian food than just paprika indeed. Cattle farmer Peter Baracskay spoke about the Hungarian Grey, a very hardy breed with distinctive long horns and a pale hide. The beef isn’t heavily marbled, but is particularly good for braising in classic Hungarian dishes such as goulash.
The Mangalitsa pig is a curly-haired breed that’s known for its high fat content and intense flavour. As such, its meat is often referred to as the Wagyu of pork. Zsoka Fekete is an award-winning Mangalitsa farmer who began selling her produce in 2013. Not only does she farm the animals, but she also looks after veterinary duties and selling the products at the market.
Hungarian wines were once highly prized, but two world wars and Communist collective farming were not conducive to wine production. Today, dry white furmints or sweet dessert wines from Tokaj, and bold Egri Bikaver (bull’s blood) red wines are making a comeback. Then there’s the Hungarian national spirit, palinka, a fruit brandy in a wide variety of flavours. If it’s not grown, distilled and bottled in Hungary, it’s not palinka.
Terroir: many flavors, multiple meanings
Hungary doesn’t have a dramatic coastline, rugged mountains or amazing biodiversity – but by understanding its terroir, chefs can make the best of its unique produce. And what is true for Hungary applies to all regions. Sebastian Frank of Restaurant Horvath in Berlin told of his emotional connection with the terroir of his region – even though Berlin is not blessed with the most interesting terroir. “We have to work with what’s there around us,” he said.
Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy in New York City explored the idea that terroir is more than just the environment around us – it’s also about what’s within us. “I realised Dirt Candy was my head, and people could sit inside and eat my brains,” she joked. “Terroir means different things to different people, but my terroir is me.”
Nurturing the young talent of gastronomy
Gastronomy can only improve if the next generation of chefs is supported. Chef Andras Wolf of Budapest’s iconic New York Café is a jury member for the East Europe region for the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 competition. He spoke about the importance of mentorship and nurturing young talent as part of this global talent search. “We have to help the young chefs define and reach their goals,” he explained. “It’s important that these goals are seen as a lifelong journey. Young chefs must find their own personality and communicate it on the plate.”
Food tourism is driven by stories
One thing that unites us all is the need to eat. But we also like to tell stories. Speaking about the impact of food tourism, Terroir’s Rebecca Mackenzie said that stories are essential in shaping a burgeoning food destination. “People want to know the origin of the products. They want to know the stories behind them, the food culture and history. They are seeking these narratives.” It is those narratives that are crucial in creating a ‘taste of place’.
All pictures ©Sonni Frej.