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Interview with the Bocuse d’Or winner Tamás Széll

Interview with the Bocuse d’Or winner Tamás Széll

Following months of preparation and one day of intense competition, Hungarian chef Tamás Széll and his team have won fourth place at the Bocuse d’Or cooking championship’s international Finale in 2017. The Hungarian team won first place at last year’s European Bocuse d’Or championship, which was held in Budapest.

The fourth-place finish is never the less a huge win, both for Széll and for the Hungarian gastronomic world as a whole. The Hungarian team beat out perennial favorite France this year.

In addition to their impressive finish, Széll and his team won the jury prize for best overall meat dish, as well as the crowd prize for best poster.

In the interview below, Mr. Széll talks about the present of Hungarian gastronomy: 

In the European Union, we tend to speak of Europe as uniting the regions. Do you see Europe in terms of culinary regions?

Tamás Széll: Nothing differentiates regions around the world more than gastronomy. Of course there are thousands of dishes, or styles of dishes, whose origins are debated to this day. But even so, a tiny country such as Hungary is an absolute, clearly defined culinary region. Concerning this country’s culinary region alone, we could write volumes – about both the bad, ingrained customs and the world-famous, authentic traditions!

– Which European country has the best food specialties, and what are they? 

– It would be a luxury, coming from me, if I were to name an absolute favourite. I am open to and curious about everything. Breathing in everything is what I live for. Of course it does happen that occasionally I suck in bad smells as well…It’s my job to think clearly; for this, I get constant inspiration by acquiring gastronomic experiences. I couldn’t say that a Noma dish is any more a favourite than one tasted in Troisgros. They are completely different, and yet both are brilliant. But isn’t that the point of gastronomic regions?

– Slow food or fast food – which trend will dominate in Europe in the future?

– Both of them have their place; that’s what they’re there for. Tennis and football. They’re both completely “the same” game, aren’t they? After all, they’re both played with balls! One person plays or watches one, another person the other. Or both. It depends on what mood they’re in. It would be silly to compare one group of fans with the other. They are completely different. If both are excellent, then everyone will be happy!

– As a celebrity chef from Hungary, you have a special relationship with Hungarian cuisine. Can you tell us about some of your favourite recipes from your home country for our culinary journey?

– I could go on for hours answering this question… My problem is that I could list all of the Hungarian clichés – which when prepared well hold their own in the restaurant – but I like to make them at home, as well. For example: chicken paprika, curd cheese noodles, fish soup, goulash soup. But I must say that goulash soup fits well within the framework of fine dining. Some are even as good as the original. But I won’t share the recipe because I’m sure it would put people off, and no one would want to prepare it after that. Better to taste it. 

– How important is food culture in Hungary? What trends and traditions can you discern here?

– Hungarian gastro culture is absolutely fashionable and is in the spotlight at the moment. But we are just at the beginning of the journey. I feel a mixed, civil war-type atmosphere. Side by side we see the new and modern dishes along with the stale old ones, as well as the truly traditional. Hungarians are confused. They are still not able to see the correct path clearly. But it is a fact that not just the good, but the better restaurants prefer to purchase from abroad. That is a really a big problem for everyone. I would be extremely cautious about calling that culture! Whip-wielding cowboys with their goulash soup are also Hungary, but we are not just that!