Award for gastronomical sustainability – Restaurant Pajta in Őriszentpéter

“We would like to be trendsetters”

One of the highlights of this years' Volkswagen-Dining Guide Award Gala was a new category in which the Dining Guide Römerquelle Sustainability Award was given to the restaurant that implemented a real farm-to-table concept in their operations. The first winner of this to-be-annual award is Pajta, from the small town of Őriszentpéter next to the Slovenian border.

Those who follow Dining Guide or regularly read their online magazine know that their editorial is very devoted to the question of food waste and waste reduction. Through the Sustainability Award, Dining Guide would like to draw restaurants’ attention to environmental consciousness.

The first restaurant to deserve this forward-thinking award is a place with a very honest philosophy. Dining Guide’s first green award was given to a restaurant that provides a high-quality performance throughout the whole year, with the goal to rediscover the long-forgotten ingredients of their surroundings and to accomplish a real farm-to-table concept.

The Pajta restaurant is among the best in its category, where with every meal they are seeking to put locally grown, seasonal dishes on the plates. Last year their chef, Richárd Farkas, was awarded the Young Chef-Talent of the Year prize, while this year he brought home the Sustainability Award.

But what makes Farkas’ kitchen sustainable and what kind of tips does he have for others? “Get to know your area and surroundings,” he says. “Start cooperating with local farmers, producers, and manufacturers.”

He adds: “Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the richness of ingredients. It is not only us who get to know our surrounding area better but the locals discover us as well. Last week they cut down a couple of goatlings for us, and this week they will slay a calf.

“But we are not only cooperating with farmers. Some of our plates were made by a local ceramist, Gyula Zsohár, who is the fifth-generation of ceramics in his family. We would like to be trendsetters in this regard as well. I might like the plates of Scandinavian restaurants, but I would like to support local manufacturers and produce local values.

“The local cottage cheese dumplings look a whole lot better on plates made here, in the Őrség hills. And even more authentic. Also, our tablecloths are made here in the neighbouring village of Lendvajakabfalva, where a lady makes them and embroiders them with local motifs.”

In Pajta bread is always yeasted in-house and bacon is home-produced. Farkas and his team just received two kilogrammes of beeswax. They will use it to ripen their own deer ham, which they are serving as appetisers. Beeswax is also used in the two-Michelin-Star Steiereck restaurant in Vienna, for marinating one of their iconic dishes.

“Also professionally it is an exciting challenge and it can be very rewarding when instead of the pricey Wagyu and fruit, our guests order dishes made of Hungarian beef and Zala figs – and they are just as impressed,” says Farkas. “Instead of lemonade with a different kind of citrus, we started serving home-made syrups, fruit juices and fresh fruits.”

Nose to tail

For Farkas and his team, it is very important to minimise waste. “When we receive lambs we are using every part of them from their ears to their tails. The legs and shoulders are used for the main dish in our weekly 10-item menu, while the better parts, such as sirloins or tenderloins are part of our degustation offer. “From one half of the bones we make jus and the other half together with meat parts we use for a soup as part of our Őrség menu. Although our menus change every three months, I have left enough wiggle room to make the meat soup always from the fresh slay. And I have not even started talking about how the liver or heart can serve as a fantastic appetiser.” The hardest thing for the Pajta restaurant is purchasing fish as there are not many places dealing with fish in the hills. “We get our fish supply mostly from the fish market in Budaörs. In our concept we can only fit Hungarian fish; my favourite of these right now is the northern pike. “If I have the chance I like the fish to be delivered without any processing, and I show the others how to prepare them. We keep the pike’s liver and, in some cases, we find roe. Pickled fish roe can serve as a very unique appetiser. “We apply our nose-to-tail concept to fish as well, trying to reduce the amount of waste to zero. We even use the intestines, and from their bones we make consommé and jus.”

Collect, store, use

Serving homegrown fruits and vegetables is an important part of Pajta’s philosophy. As Farkas proudly claims: in three out of ten dishes on their menu they exclusively use homegrown vegetables such as radish, spring onions or spinach.

“Last year we had two barrels full of spring onions, we made soup and grilled onion out of it, but I also pickled some of them and ground the rest. Many guests come down to have a look at our vegetable garden, and some of them even come with us to the forest to collect mushrooms.

“We have so much chanterelle here that I can make a great variety of food from it. We serve mushroom velouté, as well as smoked, grilled and pickled mushroom. And we do not throw out the stem either but leave them in the pinewoods so they can reproduce.”

Many people who live in bigger surrounding communities find it relaxing to go with Farkas and his co-workers to the forest to collect pine-cones, elderberry and lilac. “We stored the flowers in salt, vinegar and vanilla honey, or we pickled and fermented them. We would like to store more goods for the winter because we will have a new storage room.

“As the spring arrives we start with our glasshouse, where everybody can adopt one vegetable bed they take care of. It is a good feeling that the locals come and contact us because they decide what to plant in their gardens based on our needs.”

Composting green waste is very important for the kitchen team. “It is evident for us. We disperse the humus between our vegetable beds. And the leftover coffee ground we put to the plants as Spanish slug-repellent. These are not revolutionary innovations, only small things which might not change the world, but in our own way we might make it a better place.”

Save energy

But Farkas does not stop here, he tries to implement his green philosophy to every little detail. “During the winter even a little amount of sunshine is enough to heat our building, so we can save energy. And in the summertime the grapes planted on the side of the building provide shade. We have solar thermal collectors supplying us with hot water and we only use LED lights. We print our menus on recycled paper and, naturally, we use both sides. What we cut off from the side of the paper we use as notepads to take orders.”

There is only one area in which the chef is still looking for the perfect solution: “In general we only use a limited amount of spices, only what grows in the region. At the moment the only spice that we use, and it is not something that can be found elsewhere, is chocolate. But even there we try to use bean-to-bar and fair-trade products.”

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