Csaba Ádám ran the Olimpia restaurant from 2013 until the end of last year, and has built up a solid reputation for himself. Since then, he has been working on short-term projects, developing menus and recipes for restaurants, and since September he has been the head of the Plant Based Program at our institution. He has been a vegetarian for two years and does not rule out giving up all animal products in the future.
In recent years, you have become a household name with the Olimpia restaurant, which closed for good last year. How did you experience this change?
I ran the Olimpia from 2013 until the end of last year and it was a very rewarding but difficult time in terms of having to take on multiple roles as operator and chef. You could say that I brought my own skin to the fair, so it was a very learning period for me, and I recommend that all chefs try it, because they will look at hospitality from a different perspective, their own profession. Overall, it was a productive period, but it did tire me out to the point where after eight and a half years, I’d say that’s enough.
Are you one of those chefs who knew from a very young age that this was what you wanted to do, or did you develop an interest in cooking later?
I developed it relatively early because there are several caterers and chefs in my family, my father was a chef at the Dunapalota, so I got to know what the profession was at a relatively early age. The environment made me sympathetic to the profession, and I even fell in love with it, and food has always played a central role in our family, so it was a straightforward path to the profession. There was no alternative when it came to deciding on my further studies and luckily I was accepted at the first choice, Gundel, where I completed my studies. I was then extremely lucky to be accepted in 1994 to the best restaurant in the country, Alabardos, where I spent six years.
In the Olympics you also prepared meat dishes, but you were already a vegetarian. When and why did you leave meat in your diet?
In my case, it was from October 2019 when I was still eating fish and March 2021 when I excluded all meat from my diet. One of the reasons is that the world is changing and if you don’t realise that you need to move with that change and do something to stop the current bad trends, you are making a huge mistake and not being realistic. You could also call it an awareness issue, namely that I want to be aware and do less harm. The modern man, by getting up in the morning and going to the toilet to flush, is already doing harm, and practically every move he makes does nothing but harm, but he is not really giving anything back. I think that eating meat is terribly damaging to the planet and we are taking a huge burden off the Earth if we can just give it up. As a very pithy and bigoted meat eater myself, I was able to recognise this and take that step. There’s also an aspect of the shift that I wanted to give my children a model of consciousness, but in no way do I mean to force them to adopt a vegan diet, I’m not encouraging them, I’m trying to give them a model of how to live more consciously and treat the living world ethically. I think that we should treat our environment, animals, in a much more ethical way than mankind has done so far, because I cannot even find a word for what is going on in industrial animal husbandry. In addition, the meat that, on average, finds its way into the trade and onto people’s tables is, with a little exaggeration, poisonous. If you look into the production of factory farmed poultry, I guarantee you will be put off for life. To know and see that chickens are raised in their own excrement, in ammonia fumes, is enough incentive to make one withdraw from meat consumption altogether. It was a conscious and ethical decision to go absolutely meat-free in my diet. I haven’t given up eggs and cheese yet, it’s a difficult thing for me, but I don’t rule out the possibility that I will reach a point where I exclude all animal products from my diet.
Why is it recommended that even someone who works with meat should take this training?
Because it’s a mindset changer, I think it can be a major structural change for a chef who also works with meat. Basically, there are rules for menu writing, you need to have some kind of arc to your menu to make it a good experience, and I used to find it very difficult to imagine how to do that without meat. I think that for those like me who find it hard to imagine how to create a menu without meat, it can be very interesting and enlightening to learn the tricks of making a menu line consist of only vegetable-based dishes. Vegetarian cuisine is often criticised for not being nutritious enough, for not providing the right nutrients and energy. I think that with this programme we will give a strong and pithy answer to this and prove that a two-course lunch or dinner can be made from meat-free ingredients, while providing all the essential nutrients and energy you need for your daily intake. A vegetarian diet also has the positive effect of making you less satiated, so you can avoid fatigue after a meal. It’s important to remember that even if you don’t become a complete vegetarian, cutting back on meat is a step forward.
The course is plant based, but not completely vegan. Can non-vegans do it?
Although there are occasional modules that contain eggs, milk or cheese, the number of these is very small, and if there is an animal-based ingredient in a dish, we always offer an alternative, including a fully vegan version.
How is the programme structured, what skills and knowledge do students acquire during the training?
We are essentially building from the basics. At the beginning, we follow the classic cookery training for a certain number of hours, but with a focus on plants. For example, in the cutting techniques we focus exclusively on plants in detail and in depth, obviously we don’t deal with meat here. The students are given a basis on how to cook a varied and tasty base stock from plants, because as I always say, without a good base stock it is very difficult or impossible to cook good food. Cooking techniques, baking, boiling, blanching, smoking, charcoal cooking, pretzelling, souvidizing, are all taught to the students in a vegetable-oriented way. Once these basics are in place, we move away from classical cookery training and towards the creation of more and more varied dishes using vegetables. This gives you a knowledge base with which students can practically do a lot, depending on their goals. If your goal is simply to be a vegetarian and provide yourself and your family with a varied diet in your everyday life, the training is also suitable for that. At the other extreme, if someone’s goals are so complex and serious that they want to open a vegetarian restaurant, for example, they can get the knowledge they need to do this. If you want to be a chef, or are thinking of working with products for vegetarians and vegans, and so want to get into vegetable processing, we would recommend that people with these goals should all take the course.