Interview with Zoltán Herczeg
“Today it is the virtue that really matters. The world of arrogant, eccentric chefs is a thing of the past.”
Why did you decide to include a Sustainability Award this year? What is this and why is it important?
Top restaurants and renowned chefs of our times possess a strong media surface as well, so they represent behaviour that influences and guides people. Today it is the virtue that really matters. The world of arrogant, eccentric chefs is a thing of the past. The world’s best restaurants and chefs are seeking to reduce their ecological footprint, which is the next step in introducing a more sustainable approach.
Dining Guide would like to raise awareness towards sustainable thinking among the Hungarian TOP100 restaurants. This expectation does not influence the ranking at the moment but it is very important to talk more about it. This award was presented for the first time this year. We awarded a restaurant which has exemplary thinking in this field. However, this was only the first step, during the second half of the year we would like to launch a bigger sustainability campaign.
What aspects did you consider while choosing the winner of this category?
We chose the winner from the TOP100 list. And starting from this year a restaurant’s environmental thinking will also be taken into account during our tests. Today you can see how the leading restaurants would like to match multiple expectations. While examining a restaurant’s performance we were also considering how much they are trying to use local ingredients. Because this is the first serious step with which a restaurant can help to reduce their ecological footprint.
There are three important questions we ask: What is the ratio between vegetables and animal products? Do they offer dishes made of imported ingredients on their menu, and how much do they rely on the goods available in their region? How much do they consider seasonality?
These factors determine how much and what kind of waste we are producing, and how much we pollute the environment by transporting ingredients to the restaurants. The whole idea of sustainability is based on this; it is the unity of farming, consumption and waste management.
Why is sustainability an important aspect in judging Hungarian restaurants today?
There is a clear aspiration to use more local ingredients. Regionality has become a very important factor in the ideology of high-quality restaurants, but you can see that it is not so easy to purchase good-quality locally grown ingredients. In order to achieve this both Hungarian vegetable and animal farming need to develop. And it is us, consumers, who can promote this, because if we are generally trying to be more aware of the origin and manufacturing of our food, and we choose dishes that are more typical for our region, then production will start to change according to our needs. Without consumers this cannot happen because we need a constantly growing awareness and a different mindset from restaurant-goers.
The hospitality industry can accelerate this process and help making it trendy with their carefully constructed menus and with the quality they offer.
How difficult is it to consider sustainability in day-to-day operations of a restaurant?
This question can be divided into two parts. The first part would be the use of ingredients. We already talked about this. Today this first part has become seemingly easier because a lot of events have started in this direction. The second and much more difficult part is reducing the amount of packaging and wrapping of ingredients, both in the case of prepared and semi-prepared ingredients. This also includes coming up with sustainable ways for treating, disposing and recycling waste. It also means using environmentally friendly cleaning items instead of chemicals. There is still a lot to do in this field both regarding the food industry and hospitality as well. Restaurants will quickly move to this direction, but in order to achieve this they need to receive adequate information and must be shown alternatives.