Fortuitous encounters – Restaurant Gundel Budapest
The life story of the founding father of the famous Gundel dynasty is almost like a fairy tale. In 1857, at the age of 13, Johann Gundel left his family home in the Bavarian town of Ansbach, southern Germany, because he didn’t see eye to eye with his stepfather. He set off to find a distant relative, whom he knew of only by hearsay, and who supposedly ran an inn in Pest, Hungary.
On the way he made friends with Eduard Sacher (1830-92), who at this time was an apprentice in the delicatessen of his father, Franz Sacher. As a 16-year-old apprentice chef in the household of Count Metternich, Franz Sacher had created the famous Sachertorte that is named after him. Eduard Sacher secured a place as a trainee for his new friend too, thus laying the foundation for what was to come. After some time in Vienna, Johann Gundel continued his journey to Pest, where he received a warm welcome from his relatives.
He combined helping to serve in the family’s simple inn with training as a waiter, thus continuing his education. Soon Gundel was working his way up through the better restaurants. Only just 25 years old, he was already well regarded by and popular with both guests and colleagues. He married and bought his first restaurant. The business flourished, and soon he took out a lease on the smartest hotel in town, the Istvan Főherceg. The hotel quickly acquired a good reputation for its reliable, imaginative cuisine, comfort, friendly service, and attentive approach to regular guests.
Its success also stemmed from the fact that Johann Gundel realized the importance of refining Hungarian cuisine, and adapting the style of bourgeois Viennese cuisine to suit the times, thus bringing his hotel up to a European standard.
Under Károly Gundel (1883-1956), the son of and successor to Johann Gundel, the house cuisine was enriched by French influences. Károly not only learned from his father, he also trained at the famous Ritz and Adlon hotels. In 1910 he leased a garden inn in the Városliget, the loveliest open space in Budapest, with the zoo, and turned it into the “Gundel.” He became world famous not only because of his talent and expert skills, which he continued to develop throughout his life, but also for his passionate love of his trade. Every day he drove to market to buy the best ingredients for the kitchen himself. Afterward he would deal with administrative matters and with the staff, and at lunchtimes and in the evenings he would devote himself to the guests in the restaurant.
Károly Gundel published tales of his experiences in the catering trade, and recipes for his house specialties — both his own creations and masterpieces by his colleagues. Adapted to modern tastes, his recipes are still followed today.
Photos : www.gundel.hu