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XpatLoop Interview: Gergo Gullner, Executive Chef, InterContinental Budapest

XpatLoop Interview: Gergo Gullner, Executive Chef, InterContinental Budapest

For the last 20 yearsm Gergő Gullner has worked for well-known international chains of hotels ‒ Kempinski Baltschug in Moscow, Marriott in Zurich, The Monarch Dubai, and the Al Wazzan Group in Kuwait ‒ building his career as an Executive Chef. Working his way up from an apprentice, his last position was as Executive Chef at Al Wazzan Group, Kuwait, where he was in charge of kitchen operations and managed 180 employees.

With a diploma in Advanced Kitchen Management from the Emirates Academy (associated with the Ecole Hotelier de Lausanne), Gullner has also been a winner at the French Gastronomic Competition. During his career he has prepared food for world dignitaries like Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth, Hilary Clinton, Roman Herzog, Philip Duke of Edinburgh and many more.

His hobby is paragliding. He has two sons and is very much dedicated to their upbringing.

His philosophy towards gastronomy: “I love to celebrate the simple things in life and it is the same in the kitchen. I don’t like to overcomplicate things. I search for the perfect match of flavours and I like to share this with others. I love to create a unique experience for my guests, one that goes beyond food. There is always a story behind each dish that starts a different conversation. I believe that people should share these moments in life.”

1. Where did you grow up?
Here in Budapest, so it can be called my hometown. I was raised in the 2nd district between Rózsadomb and Szabadság hegy, around the Pasarét area. The house where I grew up has a garden, so I played a lot outside with my mates. I remember climbing the cherry trees, arriving home with red marks all over my T-shirt. I think this gave me a good connection to nature and fresh produce. I always had a garden to go to, since our cousin had one too, and still today I love gardens, and gardening; it was part of how I was raised by my parents.

2. Who was the best cook in your family?
Definitely my Dad. I come from a traditional hotelier/gastro family. Once upon a time my father was the Executive Chef at the Intercontinental Hotel, which later turned into the Marriott during privatisation here. It was actually called the Duna InterContinental way back then…My Mum bakes really good cakes, though!

3. What is your fondest food memory?
I have so many, and it depends on the season. For example when autumn comes I remember a day with my family in Prague when my Dad ordered a garlic cream soup. It was so delicious; I can still recall its flavour…

4. What was the first recipe you learned?
My dad taught me how to cook the garlic soup I just mentioned when we got back to Budapest. To this day I love to follow his recipe and cook that soup in autumn.

5. What is your favourite food to eat?
Thai food is something I really like, as you can identify the aromatic flavours of all the different ingredients, and it’s perfect for hot climates. Also I love Lebanese cuisine, which I learned about in Kuwait under Lebanese management who wanted to open a Lebanese – Arabic – Middle Eastern restaurant. When we were opening the first such restaurant, they asked me to go to Beirut to learn more about this food, which is a mixture of Mediterranean, French, and Arabic cooking. The freshness of the vegetables and all the produce was a huge hit with me, especially coming from working in Dubai and Kuwait. I really enjoyed cooking with produce from the four seasons, where farmers grow such a wide variety of vegetables. It was really refreshing to see and taste the freshness. To now have all that knowledge about food is great. For example I love using fresh basil and mint in unusual ways for European cuisine.

6. How often do you 'play with food' to create new dishes?
Every time something inspires me, I try my own version and also every three months I write a new menu which follows the seasons, too. Not to mention the special occasions when a tailormade menu is needed. So in other words, experimenting is part of my job.

7. Which chef do you admire most and why?
Gordon Ramsey is one of my favourites. I love his passion, the way he speaks, how he acts, how he is when he comes into contact with food. He learned the trade the hard way, from the bottom working under Michelle Roux and Marco Pierre White, whom I love, too. I bought their books when I first moved abroad, and only then found out that Ramsey learnt from them, too.

8. When did you start cooking, and why?

I started at trade school when I was 14, but I was already doing simple dishes at home before then. My parents didn’t exactly teach me, but rather involved me when they saw I was interested in something they were doing in the kitchen. I used to stand by my Dad watching what he was doing, and he would get me to chop or clean or help cook small parts of a dish, so I could see how the process all came together. This is exactly how I teach my students. They might just have a part in a dish, they might just peel a vegetable, but they have to do that at first to see how important it is to do each step in the process perfectly. It was in my Dad’s professional kitchen that I became an apprentice and put on my first chef’s uniform.

9. What was your funniest kitchen incident?
The first day I arrived at my first work place I was asked to make some crispy onion rings. I was even told exactly how to fry them. However it was a mistake to listen to the advice to put them in a deep fat fryer. When my dad came in and saw what I was doing he made me start again from the beginning. When I tried to clean the fryer, someone unplugged the stopper which held in the lard. It poured out everywhere and I created a big mess. When I tried to clean up the lard, it set as I brushed it into the drain, so the pipes clogged up, and I had to ask for special tools to clean the drain...what a great first day!

10. What was the luckiest moment in your life so far?
You need to be lucky, but I don’t count on it. I can recall one very lucky moment when I was nominated to join a cooking team going to New York to represent Hungary. I was at Gundel Restaurant at the time, and we went to work at a Food Festival at the United Nations building. We were responsible at lunch time to cook for some very highly positioned people. George Lang was our host at that time as owner of the Gundel. He let us choose from the Manhattan’s Top 100 Restaurants guide. I chose Windows of the World, Cellar in the Sky and others. At the Waldorf Astoria I remember having a special Game & Truffle Menu, was an amazing experience which I will never forget and can still taste!

11. How do you like to relax?
With lots of sports. I always did sport growing up. I played water polo first, then did some rowing, then cycling and inline skating. Later the gym world opened up here in Hungary, and so I started going there and it still pleases me today. Also these days I paraglide, as I love being outdoors. It has a sports value since you do a lot of walking up the hill with your 20 kg ‘wings’ on your back. For me, nothing is more relaxing than being up by myself in the skies.

12. What is your most treasured possession?
I love anything with a story behind it which I can talk about, and which has a recognised valued. My Colnago bicycle is one such item, since all these bikes are works of art. The one I have is paired with one given to Pope John Paul when he moved to the Vatican, except his was covered with real gold.

13. Apart from temptation, what can't you resist?
Buying a new or even old vintage Vespa. I love antique stuff for all the reasons mentioned earlier.

14. What single thing would improve your quality of life?
A holiday in Thailand, on one of the islands like Koh Samui, would be
great now.

15. What career other than yours would you love to pursue?
Interior design, or a landscape design, since I love being intelligently creative, and they seem like jobs where you could be creative in a relaxing environment.

16. What job would you definitely never want?
An accountant – I couldn’t work with numbers and sit behind a desk all day.

17. What achievement in your life are you most pleased with?

I am very pleased with the kitchen and restaurant we started in Kuwait - since everything I learned before then was used to successfully put together something special in a country where no private business had achieved such a thing before.

18. What behaviours do you most like in others?
Curiosity, openness, open communication. An openness to anything new. And honesty is something I cannot live without.

19. What would you say is your personal motto?
I love to celebrate the simple things in life and it is the same in the kitchen. I don’t like to overcomplicate things. I search for the perfect match of flavours and I like to share this with others. I love to create a unique experience for my guests, one that goes beyond food. There is always a story behind each dish that starts a different conversation. I believe that people should share these moments in life

20. What is your professional goal for the next 5 years?
I want to prove myself in this new position. I was an Executive Chef at a smaller place before, and so this is my first time leading a 5* hotel. I really would like to grow with InterContinental, and prove that the way I think about the kitchen works. I hope I can also inspire others to follow my style. And my personal goal? Well, my ultimate goal is to always be happy.

Proofread by Írj Jól Szolgáltató Kft


17.08.2015

 




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