Transcripts

Eating In The Embassy: Getting Hungry For Hungarian Food

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." With the first day of spring just around the corner, we're calling this week's show, Spring Fling. So this hour we're getting out and about and exploring all the springtime goodness the D.C. area has to offer. Earlier in the show we moved beyond the Tidal Basin and checked out some D.C.'s other cherry trees. And in just a bit we'll hear about the Yellow Perch whose spring spawning numbers have been going down. First though, it wouldn't be spring in D.C., without the annual global culinary showdown, The Embassy Chef Challenge.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:41
The 2013 challenge took place Thursday night and the winner was crowned by the 2012 champion, 35-year-old Chef Viktor Merenyi, from the Embassy of Hungary. A few days before Viktor stepped down from his throne I met up with him in the embassy kitchen for a little bit of conversing and a little bit of cooking. I was joined by Missy Frederick of Eater D.C., the local food blog with which we produce our regular series, "Eating in the Embassy."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:01:05
Viktor has been cooking in the U.S. for four years now and he says he has one primary goal when whipping up dishes for the ambassador and his guests.

CHEF VICTOR MERENYI

00:01:13
Usually the people thinking about Hungarian cuisine, it's fatty, spicy, always pork inside. And that's my job, show to the people stuff that are different. We have beautiful lakes, beautiful freshwater fish. We have four seasons in Hungary, so always changing the ingredients. Also, different areas in the countries with different cooking methods.

SHEIR

00:01:40
Can you give some examples of traditional dishes from different parts of the country?

MERENYI

00:01:44
For example, two days ago I made the gulyasleves soup. Usually inside the gulyasleves soup, a pasta, like dumplings and the cubes cooked meat.

SHEIR

00:01:53
Are there other foods that you grew up eating, that when you make them here you alter them a little bit?

MERENYI

00:01:58
I like to follow my grandmother's dessert. It's really sweet part from the childhood. It's really famous, the strudel, in our country. And you can play with the stuffing to the strudels here. So for example, two days ago also I made an apple strudel, but I put inside some black poppy seeds. So it's made a totally different way, a bit healthier way. And keep the traditional way also.

SHEIR

00:02:30
Here in Washington -- you've been here, you said, four years.

MERENYI

00:02:32
Yes.

SHEIR

00:02:32
Are there places you can go to buy special ingredients or restaurants where you can get real Hungarian dishes?

MERENYI

00:02:38
To find the Hungarian ingredients in D.C., that's the biggest challenge than the Embassy Chef Challenge. Actually, four or five location I need to visit after I find everything. Here in D.C. you can't find Hungarian restaurants or typical Hungarian dishes. Some Central European restaurants try to do that, but they follow their way, their cooking method. I can tell them if they want.

SHEIR

00:03:11
What about beverages?

MERENYI

00:03:12
Beverages, we will make our wines. So special wine, is coming from Hungary. And the palinka. Palinka, it's real, real nice. A kind of spirit. It's made from fresh fruits. You can find 15 or 20 types. A bit strong, but it's okay.

SHEIR

00:03:32
I was in Budapest last year and I had prune and I pear.

MERENYI

00:03:36
And which one do you like?

SHEIR

00:03:37
I think I like the pear a little more. I don't know. They were both delicious. Strong, very strong.

MERENYI

00:03:43
For me the pear. Pear, it's working more than the prunes.

SHEIR

00:03:45
So should we start cooking or do you--are there other things you want--

MS. MISSY FREDERICK

00:03:48
I think we can start cooking. That would be great.

SHEIR

00:03:48
Yeah.

MERENYI

00:03:49
We can start cooking. Beautiful. So what we will cook today, like dessert. Palacsinta, it's a Hungarian pancake. It's totally different than American pancake. The Hungarian pancake is really thin. The ingredients for the pancake, it's flour, milk, egg and some soda water. So we just put the flour inside to the bowl, some egg. We need some salt. This will be a dessert, but a small amount of salt. Egg inside. I just put now milk. Stir it well and now the soda water.

SHEIR

00:04:43
So it's not the least bit lumpy. Yeah, it's very liquid.

MERENYI

00:04:48
Yeah, that's why the pancake is so thin. A couple of seconds to heat up the pan. And we use usually olive oil or corn oil or vegetable oil. The traditional way, they use pork fat. But here in the embassy, what we really would like when the guest finishing, don't feel the, Oh, I am totally -- I can't move and I need to sleep a couple hours.

MERENYI

00:05:24
So I just brush with oil. And if you use this pancake, another different way to the dessert and if you put walnut cream, cook the walnut cream inside and cover with chocolate sauce, that's our famous Gundel pancake. And in the restaurant they put palinka on the top and flame it. So when it arrives to the guest, the pancake, it's nice, blue flames. And also with the palinka flavors around. Oh, it's so good. That's all. So a couple pancakes ready. Would you like to try the pancake?

FREDERICK

00:05:59
Yeah, I'll try one.

MERENYI

00:06:03
This is a sour cherry compote and I just cook with sugar and cinnamon and vanilla and a small amount of powdered sugar on the top. When you need to make elegant, because the guest eats first with their eyes. And after the second they will taste it.

SHEIR

00:06:25
That was Chef Viktor Merenyi of the embassy of Hungary. To see photos of the chef at work visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:06:32
And stay tuned because this summer's Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, is all about Hungarian heritage. So each day on the National Mall, Viktor and his crew will be serving up 10,000 portions of Hungarian food. That's a whole lot of goulash. You can find more information about that big event on metroconnection.org, too.
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