Balázs Csapody must know something, because the Kistücsök Restaurant has evolved into an institution on the south shore - just like the Légli wines somewhat west of Balatonszemes. We chatted with Csapody, head of one of the best restaurants of Hungary about the rain, fishing prohibitions, and the pig's ear tomato salad. It also turned out that the autumn will bring heavy game dishes and that he wishes to study Portuguese cuisine out of curiosity at the moment.
WLB: How did this rainy summer affect the turnout at Kistücsök?
Balázs Csapody: It only affected us to the extent that our use of the patio was limited. There were days when we were stuck inside, so we could not seat all the guests. In summer evenings, the majority of guests wants to sit outside, as lounging under a huge tree has a special feel to it. So we could not deliver the ambience we intended due to the rain.
WLB: How much has the circle of guests changed since the great transformation of two years ago and the introduction of the new gastronomical direction?
B.Cs: We have been running for 22 years now, during which time has shaped a stable circle of regulars who always return irrespective of weather and other conditions.We have countrywide and local regulars as well, people are coming from Zalaegerszeg, Nagykanizsa, Siófok and (in the summer) Budapest, some have summer homes close by, others just pop in for a lunch on their way somewhere
WLB: Many of our acquaintances mentioned a lunch at Kistücsök as a special Balaton programme. How early in advance does one have to book a table in the summer?
B.Cs.: There were peak times when you had to book a week before, but usually it is enough to phone 2-3 days in advance.
WLB: Regarding food, you lay special emphasis on experimenting and continuous innovation. How is the menu compiled?
B.Cs: We stand on three feet. We have a fixed menu, which is unchanged throughout the year and is comprised of classical dishes based on ingredients that are not season-specific. Then we have seasonal menu base don the ingredients of the given season - this is usually valid for 5-6 weeks. And there are the blackboard specials, adjusted to freshest produces on the market on the day. The latter allows for the most experimenting and the realization of our creative ideas.
WLB: How many people cooperate in the realization of all this?
B.Cs.: In the high season, there are 20 people in the kitchen. During the reconstruction of 2 years ago, we completely transformed the kitchen and re-hauled it with cutting edge appliances and processing technologies. We took this step primarily for our own good, so we'd have everything at our disposal for creativity and experimenting. Currently, our kitchen boasts of the same equipment that the most modern restaurants of the world possess.
WLB: You spend a copious amount of energy on teaching yourself, and travel regularly to restaurants abroad to learn the tricks of various cuisines.
B.Cs.: I travel a lot, but these trips are never limited to one single dish. I have never left any restaurant with a fixed recipe that we could copy at Kistücsök. These visits are more about gathering inspiration, learning the right processes for certain dishes, or adding an ingredient to the right place on the menu. And then, when I return, I start to experiment and adjust the new world of flavours or processes to the local ingredients.
WLB: What dishes did you bring back to the summer specials from your last journey?
Cs.B.: Last time, I went to San Sebastian, where I saw a lot of new techniques. I also went to Italy, which inspired a tomato salad that includes pig's ear. This is a really simple dish, still it was very popular. Another great hit of the summer was the vitalo carpato, a variation of the Italian vitalo tonato from the ingredients available at Lake Balaton. It is a beef done rare, to which we served carp creme and confit tomato. For the autumn, a trip to Portugal is in the books, for studying the cuisine there.
WLB: Could you tell us about your autumn menu?
B.Cs.: We are just about to switch menus. We want to focus on autumn mushrooms and heavier meat, game will come to the foreground, and we'll use more beetroot and winter squash.
WLB.: Staying open all-year-round is still a problem for many of the restaurants at Lake Balaton. What do you expect the autumn and winter will bring?
B.Cs.: The forecasts are great, we have a great number of bookings for the autumn already. There will be several family and friendly gatherings and business meetings as well at Kistücsök. There is an increasing number of companies who bring their staff here for a meal after a training. Wine tourism is also escalating, we are asked for more and more wine event quotes. For example, compiling a 6-course menu for 6 Balaton wines is a true professional challenge, but these are the real perks of our job, these keep us moving. This is where our character shows and our idea of gastronomy. In October, we will also participate in the Welschriesling Festival. If you visit then, you'll be able to test several Wleschriesling versions from around the Lake and various harmonizing dishes.
WLB.: Do you believe in wine dinners? Do you still hold such nights?
B.Cs.: The classic wine dinners have run their course. A winemaker's lecture is beginning to be somewhat boring. I'm more for the theme nights. For example, in the summer we had a weekend to which we invited several Balaton winemakers and asked them to bring theiir favourite Balaton wine. While the dishes were cooking, or in between two courses, anyone could walk up to the winemakers to chat or ask a question. It was more informal compared to the lecture style dinners.
WLB: How did you handle the difficulties that have arisen due to the fishing prohibition?
B.Cs.: It affected us quite badly, as it is would be in everyone's interest to have fresh Balaton fish served at Balaton restaurants. We have to procure fish otherwise found in the Balaton from local fish ponds. We had tomake this compromise as we did not want to work with frozen sea fish.