There is great excitement in the Hungarian culinary world: the first Budapest restaurant, Costes, made it into the Michelin Guide. The Guide lists 271 one-star, 55 two-star, and 15 three-star restaurants. The "judges" deemed only two restaurants worthy of a star in the countries formerly belonging to the Soviet bloc. One in Prague and now one in Budapest.
Apparently as far as the city's gastronomical delights are concerned all the experts agree that a culinary revolution occurred in Budapest. As one article about the event remarked: "We stepped out of Kádár's kitchen." I must admit that I have very fond memories of even those apparently inferior restaurants from the 1960s and 1970s. A "cold plate" for four at the famous Gundel Restaurant was especially memorable. But this is a new era. The chef and the staff are from all over the world and the menu is international although they are experimenting with some traditional Hungarian food.
The "spies" of Michelin check the restaurants several times and rank all aspects of the cuisine and service. Apparently, Costes was chosen out of twenty hopefuls. The amazing thing about Costes is that it opened its doors only a year and a half ago. The restaurant is small. It can seat only fifty-four people while it has a staff of twenty-five. The first chef was Portuguese and the current one is originally from Argentina. At the beginning only the chef was foreign and the staff all Hungarian but for one reason or other by now only half of the staff is Hungarian.
In order to maintain consistently high quality 95% of the restaurant's produce comes from France. This despite the fact that on the home front one hears nothing but praise for Hungarian agricultural products: they are the very best in the world and everything that comes from abroad is "garbage." There have been attempts to limit foreign products in supermarkets. Even the minister of agriculture negotiated with the owners of supermarket chains about buying more Hungarian products (a major demand of Hungarian farmers) instead of the "junk" that comes from abroad. Some of the more nationalistic sorts are even convinced that "foreign food poisons" the Hungarian customers.
Costes, it seems, is poisoning its customers on a large scale (though, given the hefty price tag for its meals, it may cater more to tourists than to locals). The restaurant buys everything from fish to chicken and vegetables at the same famous Parisian market, Rungis. They have their own truck that makes the weekly trip from Paris to Budapest because outside truckers either stole some of the goods or simply were late with the delivery. They even buy carrots in Paris. Certain vegetables, for example the mini varieties, cost only half of what one would pay in Hungary if they can be found at all. Fish transported from Paris is also about half the price of Hungarian fish. The biggest problem with Hungarian suppliers is that the quality of their produce is not consistent, and consistency is very important in the restaurant business.
So here is the depressing reality of those best in the world Hungarian agricultural products. Economists and politicians who pin their hope for the country's future economic vitality on the agricultural sector should listen to the restauranteurs.