Natural and organic products are getting more available and affordable as demand for them keeps growing. As these natural, preservative free products are more sought after, consumers also look for local or BIO produces more. It does not come as a surprise that the same trends show in spa-, and beauty services also, enhancing the spa experience. Furthermore, these same tendencies can be observed on the menus of restaurants too.I would love to know what sorts of changes famous chefs have seen in the past decade. How did they manage to implement modern specialities into well-established restaurants’ line of dishes? Generally I find that vegetarian options are still poor and boring, and there is not many low-carb options. There are always exceptions though, luckily. I was put on a special diet by a doctor a couple of years ago, and that made it quite difficult for me to find a meal I could have. I only had to avoid some allergens. Vegetarian friends seem to come across the same few options over and over again: steamed of fried vegetables, deep fried cheeses and some good old side dish options. Most vegetarian customers got so bored of their minimal choices that they rather stay home. Some places offer desserts with ‘no added sugars’ for their diabetic patrons, which can contain 25-30g of carbs (if you are diabetic, that is usually half of your whole meal). Most of times the menus do not indicate the amount of carbs in a dish and your wait staff is highly unlikely to know the ingredients of a dish either. Just the other day I asked a friend of mine who lives in Australia, and she was happy to tell me that dietary requirements are very common over there. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant or diabetic? No worries, you still have plenty of options. But let’s get back to Hungary for a second. I asked Gabor Merczi the executive chef of a well-known, historic restaurant in Budapest on the topic. To see if he finds that there is a demand for wider variety of meals at a traditional restaurant like the Gundel.
How did you become the chef you are today?I had a long journey, but you didn’t mention the fact which can’t be negligible. We worked together for a couple of years. It is worth to mention, because these special demands were common there. I think we have to prepare ourselves to satisfy these special criteria. To answer ironically I would say it is a “marine trip”. But it is not as ironical as I worked as a chef by sea for a decade. As years went by I realized that my knowledge is valuable and marketable, and what is more it is really useful in my job.
How did the menu change since you are in charge?This is very complex, because contrary to other similar restaurants we are known that “Our guests write our menu.” We don’t try either to shape the sense of taste or to realize ourselves. We would like to transmit a special sensation of life, to keep civil values alive. We don’t sell only dishes, but we offer a positive feeling, a positive message as well, that “Gundel is the restaurant of memorable events”. “Our guests write our menu” means the followings. The sales statistics determine the elements of our menu. Of course when we change it, we take notice of the raw material in the different times of the year. Genuine Hungarian food and a selection of international dishes are offered to the guests. Definitely original Gundel meals are offered, too.
What kinds of raw material are used?Uhh. 1800 different kinds. We use almost everything from what we can cook, prepare food. Gundel is not only a la carte. Some dishes can be available at any times of the year. But as seasons change, the content of raw material changes, too.
What is most important when selecting ingredients?Raw material has to meet serious quality and quantity requirements. First of all we pay attention to the constant, reliable quality, because Gundel is open for all year. We process a great number of raw material and serve about 100.000 guests a year. Raw material is purchased from Hungarian companies met the ISO standards. They are long-term and reliable partners of our restaurant.
Is there a demand for healthier options?The demand exists. This is not a question. More and more people know what they need. In the past most of them didn’t have a meal, when they were not sure about the ingredients. Nowadays they ask and look for special dishes. Gundel is prepared for any kinds of possibilities. At Restaurant Gundel all special demands – you mentioned before – can be satisfied. It is worth to mention about carbs. Gundel doesn’t offer special foods with added sugar. We buy specifically raw material without refined sugar. We can prepare dishes with the same delightful taste as traditional ones. We offer dishes without meat or food with non-animal origin. Our staff is well prepared to meet these special demands.
Which dish is the most popular in the restaurant?It’s difficult to answer. Goose liver is the leader. In point of the restaurant’s view we have some more top dishes. But don’t forget, we are at Gundel Restaurant. Special Hungarian foods are the leading dishes. The most favorite one is the Classic Walnut Crêpe à la Gundel with dark Chocolate Sauce. It can be prepared without floor and sugar, too.
Have you changed the recipes or ingredients of any of the traditional dishes in the past years?No and we will not. Technology can change, but raw material can’t. When I say they didn’t change I can speak only about what I see. I think the world and with it the raw materials have changed. But man has changed, too. So I think they didn’t, but maybe they did. The way of cooking has changed a lot. It is not the same when, how much, how hot and so on. But to tell the truth pepper dissolves is fat, and salt does it in low density liquid like water. The world goes around and preparing food is art. The world knows that man can paint with a 0,2 paintbrush or pour the paint from a bucket. The essential is the sense to give a little bit more. We have only one thing to do, to give the opportunity to be the part of Gundel sensation. All of our guests are important for us and we do our best. Special demands are the part of Gundel’s everyday life and I think it can be expected.
The name Gundel…
“…could rightly stand for the history of modern Hungarian gastronomy and hospitality. Discover the country by its unique taste of food invented by a Bavarian born genius Károly Gundel who tamed the Hungarian cuisine. Gundel is the restaurant where you can find traditional dishes based on original recipes, served in an exceptional ambiance.”