TC: Mario, you worked in Brazil, Spain and now Hungary. You seem to be a traveller and a cosmopolitan chef. Where do feel "at home"?
Mario Tóth: In fact I believe that I am a born traveller. I love to travel and to know new cities, new people, new cultures and new flavors, and gastronomy gives me all that. When you search for a new ingredient or a new dish from a different country than yours, this leads you to do research not only on the topic to be researched, but also on the country's geography, climate, culture and language. It is literally a journey, an immersion.
TC: We know, that in Spain you worked in a 3 Michelin Star restaurant, in Martín Berasategui. Which was your most exciting experience?
Mario Tóth: Everything began as a dream, just like a footballer who one day has the dream of playing in Barcelona, a cook who started in the kitchen as an intern peeling onions and potatoes has the dream of one day working in a 3-star Michelin restaurant. And I did, taking one step at a time. Studying hard and working hard and with great dedication. For me only the fact of being accepted in a restaurant like this is already a prize. After you have it inside, you have to adapt the show because you have the capacity to be there. Is a meticulous work, very technical and also a lot of responsibility, which also brings a lot of charge and stress. But that ultimately turns a cook into a professional, and you will carry what you learned with you for the rest of your life.
TC: In Spain, there are quite a few typical dishes, like Paella, tortilla de patatas, and gazpacho. Do you have a favorite Spanish dish as well?
Mario Tóth: Actually the Spanish cuisine is lovely, with intense flavors, lots of fish and seafood, very sophisticated with many Michelin starred restaurants, but also very simple and tasty. When you learn about Spanish cuisine you may be surprised by the simplicity of some dishes in the way you prepare but also you are surprised how tasty they are. It is the case of ajo blanco, a cold soup very simple but very tasty, and when we think of garlic we immediately associate with a very strong flavor, but it is not
TC: What is the reason gazpacho is worldwide much more popular than ajo blanco?
Mario Tóth: Well before it became a summers hit by the world, the cold Spanish soup was known as "Gazpachillo del pobre". Simple dish, consumed since the seventeenth century by the poor of the region of Andalusia who, in need of appeasing hunger, gathered bread and water with whatever they had. So much that the name - of origin and Arab influence like almost everything in the Iberian Peninsula - means bread soaked, according to the Larousse of the Gastronomy.
There are a number of variations for the same theme inside and outside Spain. But it is public knowledge that without wet bread, there is no gazpacho. Another common point is always to serve cold. The combinations vary greatly. Among the most sophisticated is the ajo blanco or white gazpacho. Cordoban, medieval, of Mozarabic influence, carries mass of peeled almonds. And the gazpacho rojo, already added tomatoes and peppers.
Usually the variations are better known by the inhabitants of the country and do not easily expel the world outside. You must live in the place or do research related to the theme to be able to find these variations. So I believe that when people think of gazpacho, they soon associate with the tomato gazpacho.
TC: Can you share your secret about preparing ajo blanco?
Mario Tóth: Ajo blanco is very simple to prepare, I believe the biggest secret is in the quality of the products to be used.
TC: Do you have a special recipe for it?
Mario Tóth: well, yes, I do. Here it is.
220g blanched almonds
100g slightly stale white bread (crusts off)
A little milk or almond milk (optional)
600ml ice-cold water
4 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped, green sprout removed if necessary
200ml extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra to garnish
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Toast the almonds in a dry pan until just starting to colour, then tip out and allow to cool. Set 20g aside as garnish. Soak the bread in milk for 10 minutes if using, or cold water if not.
Put the remaining almonds into a blender or food processor. Squeeze out the bread and roughly tear into the blender. Add a dash of the water and whizz for a minute or so until fairly finely ground. Then, with the motor running, slowly add the water, followed by the garlic, oil and vinegar. Whizz until smooth, then season to taste. Sieve if desired, and then chill for at least 2 hours.
As garnish can be used grapes, melon, fig and jamon.
TC: Which is your favorit Hungarian dish?
Mario Tóth: As a fish lover, I love fish soup, well prepared with intense flavour and also a good duck breast should not be missing.
TC: Everybody thinks a chef at home cooks a lot. Do you?
Mario Tóth: Our profession is very gratifying, but on the other hand, behind the restaurant halls cooks and chefs work hard, usually twelve hours a day. We do not have much time to rest, and like all people we have our personal obligations, such as taking care of the house, the dog, being with the family, in my case there is little time to cook outside the work environment.
TC: Do you prepare Hungarian food as we do or you change it to your taste?
Mario Tóth: I am very proud of my Hungarian roots, my grandparents, and at the moment I am totally involved in learning everything I can about culture, language and food, now the most important thing for me is to discover the basis of authentic Hungarian cuisine without changing any ingredient, which will take some time, only after this step will I think of adapting or changing something.
TC: What is your project that you currently work on?
Mario Tóth: My project is to transform the experience of catering clients into something extremely pleasant, offering a modern gastronomy, using the best techniques of food preparation, the best ingredients and preparing an extremely tasty and healthy food. Day after day I think of new alternatives to make this experience possible for clients.