Head Chef at Borkonyha and Textura Restaurant, a blend of a French-style bistro and a contemporary family restaurant, situated near St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest.
The Best Chef: Chef, first of all, thank you for welcoming us, let’s get started right away. Tell us about the beginnings/ the origin of your passion for cooking.
Ákos Sárközy: I never opted to be a cook. Most people don’t know that I wanted to become a photographer. For many, many years. Then I fell in love with the gastro world and thank God! I am crazy about it. We opened this place about 12 years ago. I am the Senior Chef since then. I was here when the whole concept started to emerge, when the kitchen plans came up, I was part of it. And, thank God! Together with Tamás Horváth and Zoltán Kalocsai, I was able to run this place well.
The Best Chef: Are you still passionate about photography? Has it in any way influenced you in your work?
Ákos Sárközy: I live a wonderful combination of my two perspectives: photography and gastronomy. I earned a lot of visuality while wanting to be a photographer. Later photography remained a hobby, but my vision from photography persisted after I started to cook, through the way I saw the meals on the plate. It is a great help to find the best colours, forms, shapes. It was a great start for me. I can say that photography and gastronomy represent two different worlds, but they become one when it comes to visuality. Of course, besides the taste. But this is important. And the overall view in the life of a restaurant and from the food perspective is important.
In my life, there is place for other arts too. For example, I am linked to painting, as my wife is an artist. I get a lot of inspiration from her, which I use regularly in the restaurant.
The Best Chef: As we know, Borkonyha has been very/extremely successful and certainly has given you a lot of joy/satisfaction but, obviously, it is not always only joy, we are curious to know how this project was born and evolved?
Ákos Sárközy: The first time the idea of Borkonyha came up, and I was asked to be the Senior Chef, the plan was to make a French bistro. That was the start and we wanted to make the place simple to have everybody in for a simple meal, a dessert. That’s how we started the work, and from there we built the place step by step to be the actual Borkonyha, what we call “Borkonyha style”.
Actually, I had a lot of fights at the beginning with management. They planned to serve some kind of robust pieces: a big slice of potato, a big slice of carrot, along with some juicy meat – will look good. I always agreed: “Of course”, I said, “it will be alright”. But as they turn out, I cut the pieces to be thinner, slighter, and gave them a nice form and served them like that. I did that 4-5 times till they told me: “Okay, we leave it to you. You can do as you wish.” My real development started actually from the moment I was left to be myself. I consider Borkonyha a relaxed and playful dining place. I enjoy mostly the tasteful Hungarian cuisine, and at Borkonyha we have the Hungarian identity embodied, Hungarian ingredients are in our focus. We have a good example here, my Head Chef, Csabi Puskas, has worked by my side till now. I can leave him to work in the kitchen with the greatest trust. I guide him of course, but also give him space to implement his ideas in what he cooks. He is originally from Transylvania, and we make harmonious meals together, combining Hungarian and Transylvanian cuisine and familiarising people with this.
The Best Chef: From what we have been able to understand not only Hungary and local traditions, what are the ingredients and factors important for you?
Ákos Sárközy: There are of course many ingredients from outside our region and we aim to combine them in menus too, merge them with other flavours, and maintain this fusion. What is probably most important is that we aimed for a light, casual place, not an uptight one. We don’t like formal serving, we don’t use tablecloths, for example, to make the place more casual, with less formalities. One can enter in jogging suits, or with a dog, with kids. There are no restrictions. This casual atmosphere, the kindness, are the most important ingredients; those are considered to be our most attractive characteristics besides the good food.
The Best Chef: Given your TV success in Hungary , as many see you as an icon to follow, what is your approach and advice today to the young people trying to get closer to this world?
Ákos Sárközy: In the past years I’ve met a lot of young people, who were eager to watch chefs work, me too. What I realise is that everybody wants to be a chef – a lot of people I know, a lot of my acquaintances – as they consider a chef’s work is so nice. All glitter, he’s on TV, in magazines, on the radio. But that’s not what it’s all about. Someone who ever worked in a kitchen, worked as a chef, is aware that it means a 7-day-long workweek, with 15-16 hours, 18 working hours a day. If, after 25 years of work, nowadays, they saw me often on TV, in shows, it is because previously I worked very hard for years. That’s what I believe in. I don’t believe in being an influencer, being on screen and in the media all the time. Of course, it’s very important in the life of a restaurant to be in the loop, but it can’t be the single thing you rely on. Most important is to see the work behind it all. They’d better come to my restaurant. People should come not because they saw me on TV but because they come to taste my food and bring their family to taste it too. It is much more important to me than to be on TV.
The Best Chef: What would you change or how would you like to contribute to changing the vision of gastronomy here in Hungary, perhaps using your TV and social popularity?
Ákos Sárközy: What I’d like to add here, is that in Hungary gastro shows are very familiar now. Through all kinds of gastro shows, publications, our massive presence on the internet, this world is widely represented. We, the ‘chef influencers’, can show a new world to many people. There is a whole gastro life beyond the usual cooking. We have to get people to dare cook at home, make them go to restaurants. What we can share via media, publications, TV, can be performed anytime at home. That is the amazing power of media, which can make people familiar with our profession. This helps us a lot in our job. If someone comes to us a guest, we can communicate much easier with those people about food, as they already saw these things, they have experience, they perhaps tried at home. There will be very good communication between guest and chef.
The Best Chef: How did your television adventure start? And how has it influenced your work here at the restaurant?
Ákos Sárközy: I started my television career about 5-6 years ago. I was afraid of what I will do in this world. I was afraid that my cooking will disappear from the loop, and I’ll be considered a TV chef and nothing else, I have no restaurant in the background. So, I paid a lot of attention to be present in both restaurants besides the TV shows. As I told you previously, I am a chef for 25 years and leading Borkonyha for 12 years now. In this period a generation of my students grew up to have an amazing career. I saw them developing. I still owe them my support and to secure them an opportunity. For 12 years in Borkonyha and for 5 years in Textura we worked with the same team, so I certainly trust the people who started their career with me, they fell in love with this profession together with me, and I secure them opportunities. It is very important in the life of a chef to be aware that, to be a good boss, doesn’t mean to do everything by yourself, but to give young people a chance to work too.
The Best Chef: How would you define chef Sárközy in the kitchen? How is your relationship with your staff?
Ákos Sárközy: I consider myself an unusual chief, I used to say that I’m a ‘silent terrorist’. It sounds silly, but what I mean is that you don’t need to be harsh on your colleagues, but to find in everyone the characteristic which makes one most likeable and a team player too. I never check anyone’s CV, because I don’t care. I care only for what kind of man is my colleague in the kitchen, and in which team the young guy will fit. I don’t care if someone makes mistakes. If one makes mistakes, I know one is working. The reason I was able to build a good team is that I found everyone’s place in the cooking chain. I think this is an important thing. The idea was not to build an army, but a family as part of which one can live his dreams. When it comes to agreeing on shifts, I try to consider every aspect: to be able to spend time with friends, family, holidays, go to a party. We take everything into consideration. In time, when you grow up to think as your team does, building a good team becomes easy.
The Best Chef: Please tell us about Textura project? How was this second adventure born?
Ákos Sárközy: To understand why we opened Textura, we need to go back to Borkonyha. You can see that Borkonyha is not a huge restaurant. We have about 45-55 places. You know, we could serve 100-120 people a day and we were forced to refuse about 100 guests daily. Seeing that, we thought to eventually open another restaurant too. We knew for sure that we needed the new restaurant to be close to Borkonyha, just a few minutes’ walk from each other. That’s because we believe a restaurant can be a good one, if the chef or owner is always present. We wanted to be in two places at once. That’s how Textura started.
The Best Chef: Given the proximity of both restaurants, Borkonyha and Textura, didn’t you think they could compete with each other? How do you manage it and what are the future plans for them?
Ákos Sárközy: Yes, certainly, it was a question for us too, what if the two restaurants become competition for each other? Borkonyha was a Michelin-star restaurant for a few years, then we positioned Textura at a bit lower rank, but in time I realised that I can’t represent a completely different concept just by stepping out from Borkonyha, just a few metres apart. Textura became in a very short time a restaurant with a Michelin star recommendation. We will see how this will end. The idea is to have Textura as a playful place, where you can eat even without cutlery, and a place by design with an accent on forms and texture, you can feel that in the restaurant.
On the other hand, we build very strictly the different images of the two restaurants. For example, we divide ingredients between the two places. What we use at Borkonyha is not used at the same time in Textura and the other way around. That is how we develop our concept. Based on that, we can advise our guests on one of the two places, show them differences in the style. We receive very favourable feedback. One more thing is that, while Borkonyha became more famous, Hungarian guests were replaced by guests from abroad. Not that Hungarians didn’t want to come, only because, travelling abroad, people have a plan of what they want to visit, and make their booking in advance, and so the Hungarian guests remain out for a while. Now that we opened the other place, Hungarian guests can also be served the way we’d like to.
The Best Chef: We can say that it is an excellent time for Hungarian gastronomy, a growth increasingly confirmed internationally, what do you think about this?
Ákos Sárközy: It is a great pleasure to see that, in Hungary, we have more and more good restaurants. It is very good that we are quoted worldwide, that’s a fantastic thing. From this perspective social media is very useful to make known these places from Hungary where local foods and local ingredients can be tasted in wonderful restaurants. I truly believe that in the next 5-10 years there will appear more and more very good restaurants in Hungary. I personally believe that there will be a strong development for both Borkonyha and Textura, they will grow significantly, and we might have two places with a Michelin star, or Borkonyha two stars and Textura one. I would be very happy if we could earn a star for Textura too. It would be fun to have a lot of guests. I have no extra wishes. But who knows, we might open in the next year a third, fourth, fifth restaurant… You never know.