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There was no sleep for Tamás Széll after clinching the gold medal for Hungary on home soil at the Bocuse d’Or Europe. The 34-year old chef, of Budapest’s one Michelin-starred Onix restaurant, was kept awake with a mix of adrenaline and disbelief, not to mention the noise of a passionate Hungarian crowd still ringing in his ears.
‘I need one or two more weeks and then I will be able to sleep,’ joked Széll as Fine Dining Lovers caught up with him at Gourmet Fesztival 2016 in Budapest the day after his dramatic victory.
The Hungarian team stormed the contest ahead of silver medal winners Norway, and bronze medallists Sweden. ‘We won by 53 points. It was almost too much. Incredible, but it happened,’ he said.
‘The other chefs were so surprised, but they weren’t envious because they were happy about our victory and their success as well. It’s a very big gastronomic family.’
Rasmus Kofoed: The Coach
To showcase two of Hungary’s finest ingredients, each team was tasked with presenting a fish dish using sterlet (a kind of small sturgeon), and a meat dish with young red deer. Széll’s winning menu offered just the right balance of creativity, presentation and flavour, thanks in no small way to some expert coaching from former Bocuse d’Or gold medallist Rasmus Kofoed.
‘It was my pleasure of course to work with him. I had a lot of good advice for this competition,’ said Széll. ‘He helped a lot of general things in my work – the fish, the sauce, the meat and the jus - the whole concept.’
‘We had to understand it was very important to show the products and taste of Hungary. Everything about the country and its culture. That was the message.’
‘Maybe Rasmus taught me everything to take into the competition, but most important was the meat platter - the attention to detail in particular.’
The Winning Dish
Széll’s meat dish of leg of young deer grilled on charcoal with Hungarian spices, mushrooms and smoked mangalicza pork fat won rapturous approval from the judges. But there’s little time for Széll to rest on his laurels, as preparations for the main Bocuse d’Or contest in Lyon in January 2017 will begin soon.
Credit: Bocuse d'Or
‘I think I need maybe a few months to pass before I start preparing for Lyon. So, in the middle of August I will start again,’ said Széll.
Bocuse d'Or, Lyon, 2017
The big question on everyone’s lips is can Hungary do the unthinkable and go all the way? ‘I hope so, yes,’ said Széll. ‘But the Bocuse d’Or is always a tough environment. I think Japan is a really hard country to beat, so is America – and Hungary, of course..’
At the last Bocuse d’Or contest in Lyon in 2013, Hungary finished 10th. This time Széll admits the pressure to perform will be intense, and expectations will be high. But that won’t faze him as he prepares to step up to the next level. ‘I think I will just try to enjoy it,’ he said.