THE FOOD FATHER. Chef Louis Szathmary of Chicago's Bakery is the award-winning author of five cookbooks
Surely a large part of the talent of chef Louis Szathmary is in his hands. Capable, immaculate, and well manicured, they are surprisingly graceful and tapered - flexible when carving a tiny carrot or radish for a food platter or when cutting an artistic paper design for a collage exhibit on the walls of his restaurant. Professional execution is one of many abilities of this ebullient spirit, whose appearance completely satisfies some unspoken image of what a real chef should look like. Mr. Szathmary not only looks like a real chef, but he cooks and sounds like one as well. The twinkling eyes above a generous white mustache - a foreign accent combined with the hospitality of a dedicated restaurateur - are part of the ``picture'' of the owner of Chicago's Bakery restaurant.
Educated as a journalist and psychologist in his native Hungary, Szathmary has been an actor, soldier, counselor, lecturer, author of five cookbooks, and teacher.
Szathmary gave a lecture-demonstration here to more than 200 culinary-arts students after being named 53rd Distinguished Visiting Chef by Johnson & Wales College, known for its fine culinary-arts program.
He carved a raw potato into a mushroom as he told the students about Hungarian paprika and answered a student who asked when he became interested in being a chef.
Szathmary explained that he was serving as a psychologist to Hungarian Army men. He realized that the biggest problem with his patients was staying alive! ``In order to stay alive, you have to eat,'' he said. ``So I then enlisted in the Army as a private with the other cooks.''
His curiosity only increased, however, when Army cooks refused to answer his questions. Whenever he asked why a procedure was followed, the only answer he could get was ``because.'' He later became a European-trained master chef.
Szathmary encouraged questions by saying, ``The only stupid question is the one that's not asked.'' So the students asked - first about trends.
``Beef will become more popular than it has been recently,'' Szathmary predicted. ``Interest in poultry and fish will decline slightly. Vegetarianism will grow slightly. Ethnic food will continue to be explored and expanded. Real true American food with a major influence on health will be the norm, but cooking will be simpler.''
And what about the best areas to go for special culinary experience?
``To learn about fine pastry, go to Austria,'' Szathmary said. ``For culinary technique go to Switzerland. You'll find a variety of wonderful food in Italy.
``The Far East cooking is very important - their whole idea of food is very different from ours. No other people in the world know as much about the taste buds as they do. They cut the food in small pieces, not for economy, but because the many flavors of the food fill your mouth with joy.
``But if you want to succeed in this country, you should learn about the food of this country. We have the best of everything here, and we must just learn how to use it,'' he continued.
``Work anywhere on the East Coast from Maine to Florida, and go to New York, Chicago, and the Midwest. No city compares with New York for culinary experience in American food.''
Chef Louis, as he is most often called, has been a sort of ``foodfather'' to many adopted children as well as his own relatives and Old World countrymen. Over the years scores of students have come under his tutelage: some to research in his vast culinary library, others to intern.
Since he combines fine food with a taste for exotic volumes and collections, Szathmary has an amazing library including about 35,000 books with probably 18,000 cookbooks - plus food prints and artifacts of food - and Hungarian books.
There are mini-collections, such as the colonial and early American cookbooks. There are letters about food, a recipe request from Ernest Hemingway, letters from Thomas Edison telling about his father's dietary peculiarities, and a food-describing letter from Walt Whitman.
Right now the library is used constantly by Chef Louis for his writing, sometimes for cooking, and always for answering questions from people who call. The collection is unique. Szathmary is unique.
It was Szathmary's Japanese wife, Sada, who persuaded him to let her serve food he cooked for a hobby in a bakery she operated. Today reservations come from as far away as Tokyo - and sometimes a year or two in advance!
At his bakery, a customer may have a copy of the recipe for any dish served. If interested, Szathmary will proudly show the kitchens. Self-imposed restrictions are that the restaurant serves dinner by reservation only, five days a week, with a fixed price. There is no printed menu and no hard liquor.
Tables are covered with white linen. There are fresh flowers, and the atmosphere is warm and casual. ``I hate to wear a necktie, so why should I ask my guests to?'' says Szathmary. ``You don't have to wear a tie to be a gentleman.''
Szathmary was born in Budapest and emigrated to the United States in 1951. He opened the Bakery restaurant in 1962. He is president of Tulipanos Lada (Treasure Chest of Hungarian Culture), Chicago's Hungarian-American Cultural Association, and is working on a Hungarian cookbook written in both English and Hungarian.
Here is one of the recipes from his demonstration menu.
Szekely Goulash 2 pounds pork butt, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes 5 tablespoons lard (rendered from trimmings, if you like) 1/3 cup flour 1 tablespoon Chef's Salt (see recipe) 1 clove garlic, mashed with 1/2 teaspoon Chef's Salt 1 cup finely minced onion 2/3 cup tomato juice 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper 2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika 2 to 21/2 pounds sauerkraut, drained, rinsed 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed, bruised 1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns, bruised 1 bay leaf 1/2 cup grated raw potato 1 pound Hungarian, Polish, or similar smoked sausage or ring bologna 1 cup sour cream 1 cup buttermilk
Chef's Salt 1 cup salt 1 tablespoon paprika 1/4 teaspoon white pepper 1/4 teaspoon celery salt 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt (not garlic powder)
Mix well and keep in covered jar.
Heat 4 tablespoons shortening in large skillet. Dredge pork cubes in mixture of flour, Chef's Salt, and garlic. Place in skillet with 2/3 cup minced onion and cook over low heat 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until meat browns.
Add tomato juice, green pepper, and paprika. Cover and simmer over low heat 11/4 to 11/2 hours, or until meat is tender. Add water as necessary to keep meat barely covered. Stir occasionally to prevent meat from sticking to pan. Remove from heat and set aside.
In remaining 1 tablespoon shortening, saut'e remaining 1/3 cup onion until golden. Press sauerkraut, reserving juice, and rinse under cold water. Press dry again by handfuls to remove all liquid, and discard this liquid. Loosen sauerkraut with your fingers, and add to onions.
Add caraway seed, white peppercorns, bay leaf, and water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat, and simmer 21/2 hours. Grate potato into simmering sauerkraut, and stir in gently. Taste and correct seasoning by adding some of reserved sauerkraut juice if taste is too bland.
To serve, gently mix pork goulash with cooked sauerkraut. Slice sausage thin, and stir it in until it warms through. Add some hot liquid to sour cream and buttermilk in bowl. Stir and add mixture to goulash. In this way you avoid curdling the sour cream. Serve with plain boiled potatoes.
Instead of slicing sausage into goulash, you may saut'e sausage pieces in a very little shortening over medium heat, and use to decorate serving dish. You may also replace part of the sour cream, if you wish, with yogurt. Serves 8.