Having already presented the New York Palace as part of the Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas group since 2020, we have tested out for ourselves the luxury of the Anantara New York Palace, which is both contemporary and at the same time reminiscent of the Golden Age of Budapest at the turn of the century. Now we sit down with András Wolf, responsible for the kitchens at New York Café and Atrium, to talk gastronomy.
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Without the past, there’s no future – we talk with chef András Wolf at the Atrium in the New York Palace
We talk with András Wolf, corporate chef at the Anantara New York Palace, about past, present, traditions, innovation, ingredients, Hungarian bistro cuisine, passion and dedication.
We Love Budapest: András, your name is practically synonymous with the New York Palace. What gastronomic changes have taken place since the Minor Group bought the hotel?
András Wolf: With the arrival of Anantara, the hotel became part of a network with huge international experience, while in addition to the Salon restaurant and the New York Café, we also gained an Atrium section, located here in the lobby, which offers hotel guests a kind of quality extra service. The essence of the small plate concept is precisely that. In addition to the main dishes that are also available guests can choose from different smaller bites upon arrival and departure, and in between main meals, two people might order three or four options so that they can taste together, in addition to the international classics, the dishes of domestic bistro cuisine.
WLB: Those who are familiar with your work know very well that from the very beginning you approached Hungarian bistro cuisine and real Hungarian flavours with a highly knowledgeable touch.
AW: On the one hand, I consider this very important, and on the other, I don't really understand any other type. I think we have to build on what we bring from home, from our own gastronomy, because I think there is no future without the past. If someone asks what Hungarian gastronomy is famous for, I am sure that if we ourselves can be proud of our own traditions and try to show them in an intelligent way, then it becomes extremely appealing. The success of countries with a strong gastronomy depends on how proud they are of their ingredients, how proud they are of their technologies and ultimately how proud they are of their food. We Hungarians had an extremely difficult period, which was followed by a long-lasting and strong search for identity, but I see that now we are increasingly returning to the direction that we can proudly cook even a potato casserole or stuffed cabbage, and we can be proud of goulash once more.
WLB: When searching for a way following the régime change of 1989, I felt that Hungarian cuisine – present company excepted – missed a few stages, because the world of restaurants and classic bistro cuisine cannot be equated.
AW: Undoubtedly, there were many places, some still in operation today, where there are gaps that need to be worked on. For comparison, let’s take Italian cuisine, for example. If you sit in a random restaurant in Italy, there is a good chance that you will be served very good meal. On the other hand, in Hungary, unfortunately, to this day, there is a good chance that it will involve something pretty ropey. As long as the bottom and middle of the range does not reach a set level across the board, the top – no matter how great the dishes might be – will not be able to achieve great, resounding success. It's a bit like Formula 1. Developments are needed there for the sport to develop. The cream of Hungarian gastronomy has achieved tremendous success in the last 15-20 years, but average consumer demand has not been able to grow at the same pace. And this is, in my opinion, a very important task for restaurants, chefs and the young generation, to accustom guests to quality at both the basic and intermediate levels.
WLB: Covid has decimated the catering industry, but maybe it also started a process of clearing out the cobwebs?
AW: I believe in development and not in selection. Most of the restaurant closures of the recent period were not the result of a quality improvement, but merely the consequences of economic problems. This selection didn't happen as it should have done. We need to improve and help those who want to become better. If we train many young, talented chefs, they will carry these ideas on and run their own kitchens in this spirit and with this attitude, and Hungarian gastronomy can only benefit from this. And this is not only a profession, but actually a vocation that you take with you through life, even though the many happy moments sometimes go hand in hand with difficulties or hurdles to be overcome. It is important that you always finds challenges in your own work, the desire for knowledge must never wane.
Returning to the Atrium, we are extremely lucky, for example, in that this is a huge international chain with an amazing knowledge base, and we received enormous help from the team, where there are very good chefs as Anantara has around 580 hotels. First of all, their involvement is a huge help in terms of vision, because a completely different type of knowledge is needed to run a 40-seat fine-dining restaurant than to run a restaurant in a hotel chain. If they put me in my current role with the knowledge I had 14 years ago, I don't think I would have been able to jump in, because this job simply requires a level of organisation for which serious experience is needed. I was extremely lucky that this house grew so substantially with me. It was a very important learning curve, and luckily it seems that I managed to stay with it, but I also needed the support of many other people, from managers to owners to colleagues. I believe that we need to work together over a long time in order to develop together.
WLB: Is it difficult to obtain quality Hungarian ingredients for a restaurant of such quality and turnover? Lately, producers also had to expand to meet the increased expectations.
AW: I think the development of the production side is primarily the responsibility of the chefs. At the same time, curiosity and the constant compulsion to innovate and change were part of the already mentioned development process which, to be honest, does not actually help real development. The majority of chefs have now come to the point that if they find good raw ingredients, it is absolutely their duty to use them all the time, since the producer or the farmer can only develop if there is stability around them and they can incorporate this feedback as their products are in continuous use. It's a bit like why English grass is so beautifully green. The answer is simple: they have been watering and mowing for 500 years. Hungarian raw ingredients are now much better than they were ten years ago. The last two or three years didn't help much, of course, but hospitality is like that, we cook with what we have. Fortunately, development did not stop.
WLB: You meet a lot of foreign guests at Anantara. What can be gleaned from guest feedback regarding Hungarian gastronomy?
AW: Everyone comes from a different culture, some are more open to Hungarian gastronomy, some less so, but this does not depend on the country, rather on the type of person. I find that more and more are willing to try the flavours of their home country, and Hungarian gastronomy is increasingly become more known around the world. For this, you need very good restaurants, you need Bocuse d’Ors, you need the work of the Hungarian Tourist Agency. You can agree or disagree with a lot of things, but I think they all help to promote domestic gastronomy abroad, and in the meantime the world has opened up, and more and more of our colleagues are working abroad who are taking our good news to the world.
WLB: By way of international comparison, what do you think are our strengths and what do we still need to improve on?
AW: In general, technological discipline still leaves something to be desired. On the other hand, first of all we really need to learn the basics, above all the ‘why’! We are always interested in the ‘how’: how is it made, how do you do it? Although these are not unimportant, the real knowledge and power lie in the ‘why’, when we understand what happens to the raw ingredients, when they are used to their best advantage, then we’ll be able to prepare really good food. In addition, where producers are concerned, comes the importance of ‘when’. If we already have this knowledge, then comes strict technological discipline, which is the result of study, practice, humility and experience. Bread helped me a lot in this process, because it taught me patience. I now also know that I should have paid much more attention in chemistry class at school. All things considered, I realised that here in Hungary we are always looking for the best: the best flour, the best wine, and I could go on and on. Who is the best, or even the best compared when to what? As long as we keep chasing rainbows, we put a huge obstacle in the way of our own development. While people love to say eternal truths, the fact is that there are no eternal truths.