Antal Adam Kovacs – Executive Sous Chef at Beefbar in Budapest
Antal Adam Kovacs – he is Executive Sous Chef at Beefbar in Budapest. An exciting city with a long tradition. Let yourself be inspired.
You currently work as Executive Sous Chef at Beefbar in Budapest, Hungary. Tell us about how you got started as a chef. Why did you decide on cooking professionally?
Usually people answer this question with their childhood cooking memories with their mother or grandma. For me it was a financial decision in the first place, then I fell in love with cooking, with all the ingredients, the methods, the endless list of books and the never ending learning.
Which culinary school did you attend?
I went to a small school in Hungary, named Taverna. It was a 3-year course with both chef and pastry chef classes.
What will you never forget about your first year as a chef?
The first dish I served alone and cleaning chanterelles with a toothbrush.
Every career starts with hard moments when you think about giving up. Were there such moments in your career, and how did you overcome them?
I was working in England back then, I recently quit my job and decided to go to Amsterdam for work. When I got there, I got fooled with the apartment I wanted to rent. I was sitting there on my luggage – after, I spent all my money I had on a train ticket to Budapest – and I was thinking what the hell am I doing here? After that, I got home and I didn’t work for two months and was considering calling it quits. However, I went back to England, Hilton EMA and had a fun year and a half there. And it’s been like that ever since.
What is the best part of being a chef?
The feeling they call “flow”. When you have 15-20 orders in but all you see is the numbers, minutes, resting times and suddenly you feel like Neo in the Matrix when he sees the green numbers running.
What is the most difficult aspect to being a professional chef?
I’d say hours. Hours you work, hours you sleep and you don’t sleep. Hours you don’t spend with your family.
How are chefs considered in Hungarian society in the past and how does it differ to the current situation?
It wasn’t a really respected profession back then but in the past two decades with all the tv shows and celebrity chefs, people got closer to the kitchen environment. At least that’s what they think.
How would you describe the soul of Hungarian cuisine best?
It’s a really complex thing because we had so much foreign influence due to our history. I would go with something like this: When I’m cooking a dish and somebody who’s tasting it says: “ Oh that tastes like something my grandma use to make” . It may not be meant to be Hungarian or cannot be found in 100 years old books but it tastes like home. Hearty, spicy, full of life.
Which ingredients, recipes and cooking techniques reflect the soul of Hungary best?
Sour cream, cabbage, fresh herbs ( thyme, savory, tarragon, lovage) , lamb, fermented ingredients, Mangalica pork ( a must try for everyone), paprika, and smoked pork lard. In the 19th century our culinary culture was based mainly on French classics, that was a big improvement in Hungarian cuisine. I also love the dishes of the past few decades if they’re made with professional attitude and quality ingredients. It’s a thing to bash all the dishes that had been created in the communist era but I found many of them good enough to improve.
What are the constant and varying elements of the Hungarians cuisine?
Constant: paprika, foie gras, smoked pork lard, stewing
Varying: Freshwater fishes, wild game
Modern Hungarian cuisine, what does it mean for you?
Using mostly Hungarian ingredients with respect, mixing traditional and modern ways to improve dishes and form the taste of Hungarian people.
How would you describe your own culinary style today?
I would go with something between modern bistro with a twist. I love to use cheaper cuts and intestines because it’s a challenge to create something mouth-watering and interesting from these ingredients.
As Executive Sous Chef at Beefbar in Budapest, Hungary. Today, what is the culinary direction/ set up there?
We are a part of an international franchise, we work with top quality beef cuts from across the globe. It’s basically a luxury steakhouse with street food and classic elements and in the middle there’s always – as you can guess- beef. We make our steaks in a special way to make it unique. Our business lunch gives us a bigger playground to create dishes on our own and that’s what I’m in charge of. It’s an important part because this way I don’t have to give up any creativity.
Can you share a signature dish with us?
Foie gras paté – I cure the foie gras in bigger chunks in a thyme and juniper flavoured sal-sugar mix for 12 hours. Then I rinse it with cold water, tap it dry, put it into a vacuum bag and sous vide it for 4 min 63C. Then shock it in ice cold water. Put it in the thermomix alongside with it’s spatula and start to blend. Then I add a reduction of Noilly Prat and maple syrup to make the flavours explode.
Sea buckthorn ragout:
I make a light caramel, then add buckthorn puree, then I add the cleaned whole buckthorn and only cook it for a bit.
Pistachio brittle: Medium caramel with roasted pistachio in it.
Can you share one of your last creations with us?
Sea bream mousseline – lobster beurre blanc, lemon verbena, smoked paprika, salmon caviar.
What are some of the lesser known spices and vegetables you use?
Savory, sumac, Moroccan smoked paprika.
As a chef, you never stop learning: Curse or blessing?
It’s a blessing, everyday is interesting.
Fusion cuisine is a trend. In addition to this trend, the country cuisines evolve over the years and centuries, mainly due to influences from other cultures. Which sustainable external influences have the greatest influence on the Hungarian cuisine?
I’d say the country being occupied by the Ottoman empire. Lots of spices came in and the perforation of pork above other meat.
Healthy nutrition and an understanding of our food should start at a young age and be established as a school subject.
Are there any initial tendencies/approaches in Hungary?
There should be, but first we have to reform the programme in culinary schools. We are still learning from the same book as our teachers 30 years ago. This part shows no improvement.
The profession as a cook today offers more opportunities than ever before. But unfortunately fewer young people want to become chefs. What can you do to make this great profession even more interesting?
There’s an approach in a few countries that lowers the work hours of chefs and offers a more family-friendly environment. This is a good start. I’m not sure that the upcoming generations would do the same hours as we did, giving up on social life like we did. And I’m not blaming them for it.
The kitchen has become so international and is always bringing new trends, themes… to the fore. Hand on heart, how do you always get along as a chef with this?
I follow the trends, I love fine dining and that professionalism they handle every single detail in the name of guest satisfaction. Obviously I cannot follow all the trends but there are a few things ( more likely techniques) that can be used in everyday work.
What motto do you have for your work as a chef?
While I was an apprentice one of my experienced colleagues said: “You can learn something even in a shitty roadside pub” that’s what I think is the most important thing. To get knowledge and information from everywhere and everybody. You may have a very talented commis whose idea might be brilliant. You never know.
What situations have helped you the most in your development as a chef?
Learn to be patient and that you’re ( Game of Thrones reference) “ no one”.
What do you do if you want to treat yourself to something special to eat?
I love to go out and be a guest. Usually I go to classic restaurants but occasionally I go to Michelin starred restaurants as well, just to see the differences and explore new flavours.
What is one of your favourite local street food/ simple outside dishes in Budapest?
There’s a place called Bors (Pepper). They convert traditional Hungarian dishes or desserts to soups in a cup. And they offer a variety of freshly grilled baguettes ( there’s one with jalapeno and pork brain). Gotta love that.
There are lots of trends in the international culinary world. What are the real important developments you see and would like to become more important?
How we handle food waste and recycling trash. That’s really important because hospitality as it is now is very destructible to the environment.
Did your career as a chef change you as a person and if so, how?
It did, I think and react faster to everyday problems and have less patience towards people that just doing nothing to solve a problem.
What do people often misunderstand about the job of a chef?
It’s the hierarchy. They think they come into the kitchen and everybody should listen to them. It’s not working like that, you have to move up on that ladder. Nobody cares if you make the best consommé but cannot julienne an apple. The basics are really important.
Any place in the world you would like to work as chef one day?
If we are talking about a restaurant it would be The French Laundry. If a region then I say Scotland, because I’m a huge whisky fan. I could live there while visiting different distilleries and broaden my collection.
If you would have the time to write a cookbook, what would it be about?
Bringing professional kitchen techniques to home cooking. Something like: Home Bistronomy
Wow, thank you Antal Adam Kovacs.
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