Gergő Gullner, Executive Chef of InterContinental Budapest, worked in Vancouver, New York, Zurich, Dubai, Moscow and Kuwait as a chef of luxury hotels, yet he is most passionate about Hungarian gastronomy. He does not copy the trends, in his kitchen he wants to meet his own expectations – which is often the biggest challenge. With Gergő, we talked about menu planning, Hungarian cuisine and personal favourites.
When do you start the brainstorming about the new menu? Does the creative process stop at all?
When we launch a new menuonly a week passes before we start to think about the next one. We create a new menu at Corso for each season, adapting to seasonal ingredients. At first, we only think about the flavours, and as soon as the season’s raw materials are available in outstanding quality, the experimentation and the tastings begin.
Who are involved in the process?
The whole kitchen: chefs and pastry chefs.
My first few menus in the Corso Restaurant’s kitchen were created together withmy sous chef. During this process I had the opportunity to show the colleagues my style and my ideas about gastronomy – which was actually a guidance to them in terms of what flavour combinations I prefer, and how I like to present these creations. Obviously, the restaurant, as part of an international hotel group, gives you a strict framework within which you can think. But in all other areas, I like giving the chefs a free hand, encouraging them to think, to come up with their own recipes. This is indispensable for their individual development, but also as a team we can only grow if everyone gives their maximum. All the chefs taste the dishes as we create them and we improve the recipe together – I found that the dishes made from their own ideas feel more their own and later they cook it with even greater devotion for the guests.
Now we know that your preferences and the framework provided by the restaurant have a strong influence on the menu, is there anything else that helps shape it?
The seasonality of ingredients is a key element. For each season, a new menu is prepared to get the ingredients to the guest’s plate when they are the most perfect. This seasonal menu is complemented by promotional menus that showcase only a few typical ingredient of the given period with some special dishes. Last time for example the goose menu for St. Martin’s Day, or I could mention our truffle menu.
Do you try to use local raw materials?
Absolutely, in addition to seasonality, local ingredients also define the menu, the local and regional ingredients, to be more precise. And by region, I mean the countries of the Carpathian Basin, where gastronomy has developed together over the centuries. The post Hungarian Transylvanian kitchen, the cabbage, the sheep cheese… The dumplings of Felvidék, the typical sauces of the Slovak cuisine, and the Wiener schnitzel or the soups from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy… But the cuisine of the southern and Mediterranean countries also has had a lot of exciting effects on the kitchen we call Hungarian today. And therefore we can show the cuisine of the area in a very colourful way, beyond let’s say paprika, goulash soup, sausage … Absolutely not! The Hungarian cuisine is much more versatile, wouldn’t you say?
Do your guests appreciate the gastronomy of the region?
Yes, fortunately foreign guests are generally open and willing to taste Hungarian dishes. We strive for a 70-30% ratio: 70% Hungarian, 30% international food. A big portion of our hotel guests are foreigners and therefore we would also like to offer them flavours that they are familiar with as well.
Do you have favourite ingredients or kitchen techniques? What do you like to cook the most?
I do not like the word favourite. An open-minded man such as myself wants to taste, cook and share everything that is new to him. I do not have a constant favourite, maybe at the moment it is something, but tomorrow it will be different because I fell in love with another dish.
I enjoy preparing soups the most probably, and dressings, and sauces, where there are many ingredients, or only a few, but preparation is key, it defines its character. If I think of a túrós csusza (*a Hungarian savoury quark cheese noodle dish which is easy to prepare): There are some tricks that are worth learning because by using thes is is a joy to make this simple dish too. Fo it to be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, as it is written in the Grand Book … And how is it written in the Book? As we think it is! The writings and online presence of the big chefs are only an inspiration for me – I don’t care about trends, I don’t want to copy anyone. However, I’m very critical of myself and everyone else. I only say that something is as it should be, when I cannot find even the slightest mistake in it. This is satisfaction for me, and that’s when I leave the stove with a big smile on my face.