South Shore, cuisine, Kistücsök. It is almost self-evident, almost like a compulsory subject in Balaton lovers’ curriculum. Luckily, we won't tease you with the brilliant dishes we ate; we'll share the icing on our cake Balázs Csapody, the owner of Kistücsök joined us for lunch.
There's nothing better than having lunch with a restaurant owner, who is crazy about his job. You get a craving for dish he is telling you about while eating something completely different. Balázs Csapody has been the owner and the host of Kistücsök for 21 years; no wonder that he can recognize 80 per cent of his customers. He has regulars who used to come here when they were children, and now they start to bring their own kids. He has customers who don't even ask for the menu, because they trust his advice blindly. No wonder, because when he starts to talk about the smooth, fresh asparagus or homemade lamb sausage, when he describes pea soup as the dripping pea essence, there's no way you'll just shake your head and choose something else. Have we made your mouth water yet? We're not taking any responsibility for the rest.
„I've learned a thing or two about our guests over the years. I know who wants only a hello, and who wants me to talk to them. Often when I go to a restaurant, I too just want to have a good meal. I wouldn’t care about the boss. It has however happened that the owner sat with us for two hours - now, these are the occassions I learn a lot from. I gladly recommend dishes, because I have been involved in putting together the menu, but there's a good story for that. There was a regular customer at Bock Bisztró, who asked for Lajos's (Lajos Bíró) advice at ecah of his visits for one and a half years. One time Lajos wasn't there, and the guest sat back relieved, 'Finally, I can eat what I want!' So you've got to know where the line is."
Three Styles, one menu
'The menu consists of three different sections: seasonal specials with a degustation menu, Chef's offer and the classic menu with traditional favorites. We have two different seasonal offers per season, because March is totally different, than April. From the beginning of May we are drowning in ingredients. The Chef's offer is the most exciting section and it's completely spontaneous. For example the mushroom expert of the Siófok market recommends a special kind of mushroom, or the fishermen bring in three large catfish, we receive phone calls all the time. The other day a local woman told me, she wants to give away her roosters, and Géza Légli just brought in an amazing red wine, so it was obvious, we would prepare a giant bowl of rooster pörkölt cooked with red wine and fine pearl onions on the side.' 'My dream restaurant in 5 or 10 years would have two seasonal degustation menus and the Chef's offer; nothing else. This would give us the greatest possible freedom and inspiration.'
'Traditional flavours are often mixed with inventive ideas also in the case of appetizers. The renovation of the restaurant was based on this concept to a certain extent. We reconstructed it last winter, but we'd been planning this for a while. We inherited the previous design from the mid-60s. Cheap materials, dark spaces, wooden paneling; I could go on, but I think I made my point. I wanted an airy, brighter space. I found out in the archives of Kaposvár that after the construction of the restuarant (late 1800's) there was a boom of mansion building in Somogy County. I was looking for the atmosphere of their luxurious dining rooms: something light, a bit bourgeois. I told my idea to a several architects, but we failed to connect. After we "devoured" three architects, came Gábor Somogyi and we were on the same page from the first moment. Luckily, we managed to find a golden mean, because it was a priority to make sure our regulars would find their place; they had to be prepared that their tables will not be the same which they were used to...'Gábor designed the interior of Villa Bagatelle and fitted all of Yoko Ono's apartments.'
'At first, locals didn't fancy the novelties; they didn't come, because there was no roast plate for two anymore. While I respect their point, I disagree. It definitely used to be the greatest weakness of Hungarian restaurants: you got the same dishes everywhere. The restaurants around Lake Balaton are still sluggish; many dare not follow our steps and they stick with their five year-old menus and their spaghetti with microwaved pasta. A few carved apples, oranges, or veggies for decoration and that's all. I would love to see a few more simple small restaurants with high standards where you can have a good meal from quality ingredients. I believe that we must introduce the traditions and flavours of the regions; that even túrós csusza (traditional food; pasta with cottage cheese) can be prepared to the highest standards: using homemade pasta, homemade sour cream and the well-fried home-made bacon.'
'Basically, we have two different kinds of regulars in Kistücsök. The first regularly visits prime restaurants in Budapest or abroad, and often pop down here only for the food. The other type is from the countryside, who rarely eats out, but when they do, they want to do it right. We have foreign customers in the low seasons, who are interested in a quality gourmet experience.'
'The way I see it though, "Spaghetti Bolognese" and "Schnitzel in Pilzrahmsauce" are still the best-sellers during the high season.'
„I constantly gather inspirations. I love Italian, Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. We should learn from them: I've never seen so many simple, but unique small restaurants, like in Portugal. I like French cuisine as well, but they are too rigid for me. I travel quite often in order to attend cooking courses, to gather ideas and inspiration, and when I return home I start experimenting with the local ingredients on the basis of these. My next journey leads to Modena; I'm going to spend a day in the kitchen of Antica Moka. It is a traditional Italian restaurant that has no Michelin stars, but welcomed many Michelin-starred chefs. It is because the place is run by Anna Maria Barbieri, also known as „Pasta Mamma". I've already watched her work back in October, she coordinates and keeps an eye on every moment of the working process, and she gives advices, like 'keep kneading the dough', or 'you should add this and that', and I just love it. I asked her if she has any recipes, and she smiled at me and answered, 'I have my recipes at my fingertips!' I have to go back, and learn a few more things. The following day, we will visit Osteria Francescana, which was ranked 3rd on this year's San Pellegrino list (the world's top 50 restaurants). So we are going to check out a traditional and a fine dining place as well.”