This NYC Chef Wants to Be an Ambassador for Hungarian Cuisine, and the Results Are Delicious
What comes to mind when you think of Hungarian food? Paprika, perhaps? A stew, maybe? For so long, the cuisine of Hungary has been ill-represented in American restaurants, despite the fact that over a million people in the U.S. have Hungarian roots. It's curiously absent in New York, too, of all places—a city that used to be home to a neighborhood known as Little Hungary (75th to 83rd Street on the Upper East Side). That could change, however, if chef Jeremy Salamon of the East Village's The Eddy has something to say about it.
Salamon’s grandparents immigrated to New York from Hungary during World War II, and 24-year-old chef, who's worked at the likes of Locanda Verde and Buvette, grew up eating traditional Hungarian dishes like chicken paprikash and nokedli (it's like spaetzl).
But by the time he was growing up, “Little Hungary had been reduced to nothing,” he explains.
In 2013, he discovered The Cuisine of Hungary, by the late Hungarian restaurateur, George Lang, who owned New York’s iconic Café des Artistes. “That book was incredibly eye-opening,” Salamon says. “I started to ask myself, ‘What happened to this cuisine? Why is no one talking about it anymore?’”
The question stayed with him through jobs at different restaurants, including his first stint at The Eddy, which started in 2015. So in 2017, he took some time off to travel throughout the country of his heritage, with the hope of returning to NYC with an arsenal of experience to host his own Hungarian-inspired dinners.
“I wanted to find a way to bring Hungarian cuisine back in a way that was both preserving it and making it new,” he says.
There, he found a cuisine that was largely “built off a necessity to live,” he says, with lots of livestock, preservation techniques like sausage and charcuterie, and fruit; along with extremely skilled pastry—tiered cakes, and different kinds of cookies—often made with animal fat for extra richness.
When he returned to New York in June 2017, he founded FOND, a series of pop-up dinners that showcased his modern reinterpretations of his grandmother’s cuisine: wild mushroom goulash, stuffed savoy cabbage with nettle kraut and smoked pepper cream, and roasted eggplant with carrot paprikash and lovage.
The pop-ups were so successful that the Eddy’s owner, Jason Soloway, soon asked Salamon to return to the restaurant as executive chef, giving the chef a permanent platform to put Hungarian cuisine front and center in a city where Hungarian food is largely cooked in the home, but rarely on the menu. He makes mussels stuffed with a spicy paprikash-inspired butter and caramelized onions; lángos, or doughnuts, topped with a boldly sweet and salty combo of wildflower honey and pecorino cheese; and palacsinta, silky crepes with tangy strawberry jam and toasted meringue.
The sweet and salty honey and pecorino lángos were inspired by Salamon’s daily consumption of the snack on the streets of Budapest. They're traditionally topped with garlic oil, and sour cream, but Salamon has also experimented with toppings like cured salmon and everything bagel seasoning, lobster salad, and lemon ice cream.
Similarly, his take on paprikash—a traditional Hungarian preparation flavored predominantly by woodsy, smoky Hungarian paprika—defies tradition altogether. While the dish is classically made with chicken, Salamon came up with the idea of stuffing the seasoning into mussels on the half shell. “In Hungary, they would never make paprikash with a shellfish,” he says, with a laugh. “I just decided to throw that rule out the window.” His mussel shooters are a study in the deft layering flavors and texture—coppery, blistered peppers, mildly sweet onions, and a topping of buttery breadcrumbs and parsley.
Eggs casino, a rich, creamy salad he discovered in Lang’s cookbook, becomes deviled eggs whose filling is as velvety as mashed potatoes (the secret is schmaltz). They come floating in a pool of parsley oil, and are topped with fried chicken skin.
The one dish that Salamon hasn’t changed all that much is the palacsinta. The recipe is his grandmother’s, and her secret, apparently, is Sweet’n Low.
In a city whose Hungarian legacy has all but disappeared—save for Andre’s in the Upper East Side, Salamon’s favorite spot to eat goulash—the chef hopes to be an ambassador for a cuisine that he believes has so much potential in the fine dining sphere today. “There is no voice or authority for Hungarian cuisine,” he says, and that’s a big reason neither restaurateurs nor diners seem to fully understand or appreciate it.
On Friday nights at the Eddy, Salomon purposefully doesn't schedule himself in the kitchen. Instead, you'll find him out on the floor in the dining room, talking to people about Hungarian cuisine. He trains the waiters extensively on the history behind each dish on the menu, and the beverage program focuses heavily on Hungarian wines—“a very underrated wine region, which happens to be one of the most spectacular wine regions,” he says.
His hope? “If we can reshape this idea of Hungarian cuisine, and give it a bit more of an update in the States, maybe there will be more Hungarian restaurants one day, or at least more Hungarian-owned businesses.”