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Taste the difference

Tiger prawn, chorizo and chickpea stew Ingredients * 3 tbsp olive oil * 4 fresh piquillo peppers, cored, deseeded and cut into 2cm squares * 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped * 150g good-quality cooking chorizo sausage, sliced * 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped * 1 ½ tbsp sherry vinegar * 3 tbsp dry sherry * 600g drained cooked chickpeas (freshly cooked or tinned) * 100ml chicken stock * 70g baby spinach leaves, washed * 20 good-quality raw tiger prawns, peeled, deveined and heads removed * Large handful of basil, leaves only, torn * Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper METHOD 1. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large, wide pan and add the peppers, red onion and chorizo. Cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes again, then add the sherry and vinegar and reduce down. 2. Add the chickpeas, stir and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat. 3. In a separate pan, fry the tiger prawns in the remaining olive oil for about 30-45 seconds each side. Once cooked, add to the chickpea stew with the spinach. Let wilt slightly, then scatter over the basil, season and serve.

Sounds delicious, right? It is one of British badass chef Gordon Ramsay’s best-selling recipes. And its preparation does not even require too much effort. Finding the necessary ingredients, however, could prove more difficult.

Two decades after the end of socialism, Hungary’s shopping scene has changed completely. All major multinational supermarket chains are present in the country, but when it comes to getting gourmet food, there is still a lot left to be desired. Not that there aren’t gourmet shops, but they are confined to the capital and are specialized in one nation’s cuisine: mostly Italian or Asian. And frankly, an avid home chef probably won’t devote a whole day to visit all the delis to get everything, no matter how picky they are.

So for anyone planning to open a gourmet shop, opting for a global selection is a safe bet. The latest and seemingly most exclusive member of the domestic gourmet scene has also chosen this strategy. Péter Baldaszti, founder and owner of Baldaszti’s, a café and gourmet food shop, went into the gourmet food business out of love, not money, but he will probably become successful for offering more at one place. However, that is not what Baldaszti’s is after: it goes for top foods and ingredients and places them in a casual, laid-back environment, thus creating a place that encourages customers to wander, linger and taste the foods.

This is the very idea behind the shop: to offer customers the chance to try everything before buying. The shop and its distinguished crew, which includes food blogger Zsófia Mautner and top chef Viktor Segal, also aims to educate customers. “We wish to improve customers’ sense of quality,” Mautner said. “If they can taste the difference between the pepper they buy in a supermarket and the best peppers we brought from three different corners of the world – Africa, the Far East and Madagascar – we will make a difference.”

And how can those interested in peppers taste them? In the form of pepper sauces on artisan baked goods baked on the spot. The same goes for jams, olive oil or hams. “Why pay thousands for a food you don’t even know? Try it and then decide,” Segal explains. Once people have a tasted it, they will have a solid basis for comparison as well, he claims. “The next time you are served a slice of ham, you will know whether it is good or not.”

Tasting is the essence of Baldaszti’s, that is what their business model is built on and that is what differentiates them from other gourmet shops. “We can’t rest, but must keep searching for new tastes and trends, and always come up with something new,” Mautner noted. Rather than meeting customers’ demands, they want to create them.

A passionate and professional approach, coupled with quality ingredients from around the globe, is what has earned the reputation of premier cheese seller, Tamás T. Nagy, who has also diversified into offering salami and wine. His customers visit his shop not just to get their cheese fix but also to get familiar with flavors. Sellers have a crucial role in shaping customers’ taste, T. Nagy claims. It is the seller who needs to educate the customer, not the other way around.

Another field at which Baldaszti’s is aiming to excel is complementary services. Using top ingredients (offered at top prices) can easily lead to disappointment if one is not instructed well. That’s why there is a 40-seat restaurant also in the concept, guided by Viktor Segal, offering world cuisine based on the ingredients of the store.

Providing information on not only the properties but also preparation is essential, and in this regard other gourmet shops are doing well too, according to Andrea Stephens, interior designer and gourmet food enthusiast. A regular at Culinaris, the best-known gourmet shop with three outlets in Budapest, she is content with employees’ knowledge and helpfulness.

But she is also looking forward to some of the innovations of Baldaszti’s. Dining packs, for one, are intended to ease the burden on working home chefs by compiling all the necessary ingredients in the right quantities and placing them in a basket, ready to be picked up and made in half an hour at home. This way, chefs save time and money as they don’t need to buy a whole liter of cranberry sauce when they only need three spoonfuls.

These practical ideas, whether they be a pack of tailor-made dinner or a chunk of cheese offered with some advice, are likely to win over many kitchen enthusiasts. “Giving a taste of it to make them return,” sounds like a reasonable business model in the gourmet food industry.