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Top Chef: Levi Nagy

Twice a month, we shine a spotlight on our favourite chefs in Berlin. This week: Levi Nagy of G wie Goulasch, a Bergmannkiez Hungarian joint that serves up, you guessed it, delicious goulasch.

Image for Top Chef: Levi Nagy
Photo courtesy of Flavour Magazine

On cosy Chamissoplatz in Bergmannkiez, G wie Goulasch reinterprets the classic Hungarian stew with beef, vegetarian and even venison variations. The tiny restaurant with just a dozen or so seats (plus another handful at the bar where the cooking happens) has been around since 2009, but came under the leadership of Hungarian-born Levi Nagy, a self-taught chef in his own right, in 2012. We sat with Levi to talk about cooking in Berlin and why we ought to be prepared to pay for quality.

What kind of food do you cook?

I am from Hungary and yes, goulash is the most widely recognised Hungarian dish, but this is not a Hungarian restaurant per se. My work and my passion is to offer new interpretations of goulash, not as a cross-over or fusion concept but as a high-quality product that people can enjoy and appreciate. We always offer seven to nine dishes at any given time, including appetizers, vegetarian options, and desserts. A few select items but executed with great attention to detail and quality.

What is your most popular item?

Of course the Rindergoulasch (beef goulash) which is always on the menu, all year round. That was part of the agreement I made with the previous head chef when he passed the leadership onto me, and it’s also something I personally find very important. I have quite a few regulars who keep coming back for it.

What food trend do you hate the most?

Veganism – and I’m not talking about committed vegans who made the choice years ago and continue to practice. I mean the trend that emerged four or five years ago which has had a really negative impact on those of us working to provide an honest and sustainable living preparing food.

A cooking tip?

Have patience and use great ingredients. Better to prepare a great vegetarian risotto with great ingredients than a quick meat dish with inferior quality.

A dining tip (other than your own restaurant)?

I wouldn’t name any place in particular, but generally I like to go places where I can get stuff I cannot or do not prepare on my own – Asian fusion, experimental, or even rustic places that go “back to the roots”. I’d also encourage people to seek out places that have a sustainable way of dealing with food, ones that use parts of the animal that are in lower demand than, say, a filet.

The best thing about being a chef in a restaurant in Berlin?

Coming into contact with all these influences and people from around the world, and that includes guests as well as colleagues. It’s also great how possible it is to be self-employed here. There’s a huge community of self-employed people in the city.

…and the worst?

In the past, I’ve had some experiences where I felt really underestimated and underpaid for the work I do. It’s a bit hard sometimes to convince people to value quality.