SPICE & SMOKE

A tra­di­tional Hun­gar­ian del­i­cacy is win­ning Kiwi fans thanks to a Tau­ranga-based ar­ti­san, writes THOMAS HEATON.

Cuisine - - CONTENTS -

Thomas Heaton meets the ar­ti­san bring­ing a taste of Hun­gary to the Bay of Plenty

WHERE ATILLA KO­VACS comes from, ev­ery fam­ily has its own spe­cial recipe for ruby-red kol­bász – a slen­der, pa­prika­heavy Hun­gar­ian smoked salami.

“It’s a fam­ily recipe. It’s never been writ­ten down but you do it ev­ery year and you just feel it,” Ko­vacs says.

“Back home, I think ev­ery fam­ily has their own lit­tle se­cret, re­ally.

A lit­tle bit more of this or more of that. You go to a friend’s house and it tastes dif­fer­ent.”

Grow­ing up in the small vil­lage of Abony, south-east of Bu­dapest, Ko­vacs’ fam­ily had their own pigs and grew their own veg­eta­bles year round. Free-range and nasty-free food was what they ate when he was grow­ing up – ev­ery­one did it that way, and there was no al­ter­na­tive, he says.

“We had usu­ally one or two pigs ev­ery year. Closer to Christ­mas, when it was cold-ish, you would ba­si­cally slaugh­ter your an­i­mals and get ready for the win­ter months.”

Fol­low­ing slaugh­ter the meat would be minced, spices would be added and the meat cylin­ders would be smoked to stock the larder for the fol­low­ing months. Kol­bász is eaten as is, as well as pro­vid­ing a rich flavour base for dishes when used like pancetta or ba­con.

Fol­low­ing years of trav­el­ling and work­ing as a chef, Ko­vacs has re­turned to the min­cer and smoker and is us­ing his fam­ily’s gen­er­a­tions-old salami recipe for his Tau­ranga busi­ness The Hun­gar­ian Ar­ti­san Co. He now sells mild and spicy ver­sions of the kol­bász across New Zealand, and while he’s not slaugh­ter­ing his own pigs like back home, the kol­bász is made with Free­dom Farms pork and smoked with mānuka, the clos­est avail­able al­ter­na­tive to the aca­cia wood they use in Hun­gary, he says. It’s also packed with plenty of the “king of spices”, Hun­gary’s famed pa­prika.

Ko­vacs has taken some of his kol­bász back home for his fam­ily to try, and it passed the test for au­then­tic­ity, he says.

Be­fore com­ing to New Zealand, Ko­vacs worked around Europe, the UK and Ire­land and had a stint cook­ing on a cruise ship. He de­cided to set­tle in New Zealand with his wife Sa­man­tha Dar­ragh, start­ing a job as head chef for Mills Reef Win­ery and Restau­rant in 2007.

How­ever, “Ch­eff­ing be­came some­thing dif­fer­ent that wasn’t re­ally me in the end,” he says. “I wanted to get back to my roots.

“It’s re­ally hard to get your ideas into the food, es­pe­cially the things that I like, which are sim­ple.”

So Ko­vacs be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with the flavours of home, at home, mak­ing salami for rel­a­tives and friends fol­low­ing his fam­ily’s recipe, as well as try­ing some recipes of his own. The busi­ness started small and over the years has be­come more and more suc­cess­ful, so he left Mills Reef in late 2016.

As well as Ko­vacs’ fam­ily kol­bász, The Hun­gar­ian Ar­ti­san Co makes a truf­fle and porcini salami, which won the top award in the butch­ery cat­e­gory at last year’s Farm­ers’ Mar­kets New Zealand Food Awards, plus pink pep­per­corn and fen­nel salami and hot Goan salami.

Goan salami might sound like a rather odd creation, but it’s some­thing Ko­vacs and Dar­ragh picked up dur­ing their trav­els through In­dia.

“It was some­thing I’d never seen out­side of In­dia. We spent four months in Goa, which used to be a Por­tuguese colony. They brought their chouriço over and the lo­cals made it their own, with spices like turmeric, car­damom and chilli.”

The Hun­gar­ian Ar­ti­san Co prod­ucts are now sold in var­i­ous stores in­clud­ing Moore Wil­son’s in Welling­ton and Farro Fresh in Auck­land, as well as at farm­ers' mar­kets around the Bay of Plenty. Ko­vacs also pro­duces some fresh sausage va­ri­eties and a pro­sciutto-like ham made with pork loin but has no plans to ex­pand too much fur­ther, lest qual­ity, which he’s a stick­ler for, is com­pro­mised.

“We just want to do a few things and do them prop­erly.” the­hun­gar­i­a­nar­ti­san.co.nz

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