Monday, 24 September 2018

Life in Eastern European Paris...BUDAPEST!

Great Market Hall, Food market. 

Where To start,

For those of you who are unfamiliar with me, my name is Hanna Mathe, I am 20 years old and am a student of the Ba Hons in Culinary Arts course , currently enrolled in third year. As of this moment I am working as a pastry chef in a Michelin star restaurant in Budapest called Costes.
The intro was the easiest to write, the rest is a  bit of a long story. J
I’ve been awaiting the international year of the BA Hons course since I first stepped foot on campus three years ago. I have always felt that travelling is in my blood and is a core part of who I am. The prospect of moving my life halfway across the world was therefore a highly anticipated moment for me.Since I have previously undergone the experience 11 years ago with the move from Hungary to Ireland, I didn’t find the idea overly daunting. What I did find terrifying on the other hand, was the shift from working in a fine dining restaurant in Waterford to a Michelin star in Eastern Europe. The gap seemed massive.
My original plan didn’t involve Michelin at all. The plan included me beginning my work placement towards the middle of June 2018, in a 5 star hotel up North. But when my previous head chef in Waterford presented me with this opportunity I decided that it was a once in a lifetime offer and when the restaurant accepted me, I couldn’t refuse.

The move:
From the moment I accepted the offer I had a 3-4 week period to organise flights, begin to organise paperwork for insurance, PPS and tax numbers for Hungary, and the most difficult part of all: last minute accommodation in the Hungarian capital. Budapest is a melting pot of all nationalities, ages and genders. I made the move on June 24th 2018 and began working three days later. It was a very stressful month and in hindsight, I wish I was more rested for what was to become my life for the next six months.

Traditional Hungarian "Langos", deep fried dough, sour cream, garlic, cheese. 

As for the job:
Let’s say I was dropped into deep seawater. My firs day did not involve being shown the ropes or allowed to ease myself into the hang of things. It involved me beginning prep and later doing service just as all other chefs. The restaurant is on the small side, with the pastry and cold starter sections kitchen being in the very back, pretty much on top of each other. The chef’s office is right beside the two.
If I am being honest- picture your stereotypical Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen Michelin restaurant: that is where I work. Head chef Eszter Palagyi was named among the top 3 best chefs in Hungary several times , she is therefore under immense pressure. This results in nerves snapping and plates crashing against the wall because the stalk of one parsley leaf is 1mm longer than the other.  The base number of customers is an average of 30 per night, as 40 means a full house. It may not sound like much, but in the Michelin world, having 10 guests a night almost equals to the same amount of prep as if there was a full house. Working in a restaurant of this calibre teaches you an immense amount of discipline, dedication, willpower and self-control. 
Hungarian "Somloi Galuska", the modern take. 
One of our most popular desserts, "Honey". 

There is immense concentration , no conversation, and a minimum of 12-14  hours worked each day. As for breaks, we are not really sure what that word means. But the food is immaculate, delicious and beautiful. Needless to say, chef deserves the title. 

Life in The city:
Allow me to just say this: if you have never been to Budapest before, come. Just come. It is undoubtedly breathtakingly beautiful . It is speckled with food markets surrounding the Danube river.  With 10+ markets up and running around the city on a daily basis, there is no shortage of fresh, quality produce. From bungee jumping opportunities to patisseries dedicated to one single dessert, the national “chimney cake”, you can find it all here. There is never a dull moment and the walkway along the Danube riviere is like nothing I’ve seen before.
Danube riviere at night. 

As for local prices, living in Hungary means you’re dealing with some of the most reasonable prices in Europe, that is if you are NOT in the capital. Like I mentioned before, food markets are fantastic and in most cases considerably cheaper, but most other costs are almost equal to those of Ireland. I am currently living in a flat with 2 roommates in an en suite room (the apartment has 3 rooms in total), the price being  350 euros/month. This is roughly 120,000 HUF, which is almost half of the local wages. It must be said that you do not come to work in Eastern Europe for the money, you come for the experience . We have no lack of shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs, bistros, buffets, libraries, museums, artisanal food and coffee shops, need I go on? A week’s worth of shopping can range anywhere between 5,000-10,000 forints (15-30 euros). But you must know where to shop. Always in chain supermarkets, forget spar and penny or coop(the local equivalents of Centra). I would suggest Aldi, Lidl or tesco for maximum budgeting purposes.
Danube riviere at night. 
The cost of eating out on average can range from between 2,000 to 5,000 forints. Almost half the cost of a week’s worth of food.

Beginner’s Advice:
As stated in many previous blogs I’m sure, my number one tip would be to be ORGANISED to the max (p.s. it also helps if you don’t change your mind a month before departure. :P ).
Buy flights as well in advance as possible, begin researching accommodation the minute you have received your contract. If possible, look into the paperwork that will need to be done prior to going and take 2-3 days before you begin working to sort it all out.
In relation to spending and finances, food is always cheaper when it is seasonal and in bulk. Watch your bank account, get regular statements. It is normal to be paid monthly in Europe which proves to be a challenge for many. Budget. Ensure you’re not left with beans on toast for the week prior to the pay check.  The first thing I do when the wages come in is reserve an amount for rent and savings.  You then budget from the rest. MEAL PREP. This has played a huge role in ensuring I always have a quick bite right before work and my lunch ready to grab as I head out the door. Give it a month or two and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Righty..that is enough to get us started. J
See you soon with more news on life in Eastern European Paris.
Sziget Festival, 2018. 
Hanna Mathe xx

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