Perfect minimum—Behind the scenes: pastry chef Attila Menyhárt

Perfect minimum—Behind the scenes: pastry chef Attila Menyhárt

These days, many people choose confectionery as a career. Some, however, are not content with just learning the basics, but are constantly looking for challenges and inspiration, constantly improving and then aiming for the stars. Attila Menyhárt, or Meinhart Patissier as he is known internationally, has been working with desserts for decades and his current ambition is nothing less than to become the world’s best pastry chef.

A man becomes truly himself when he finds a calling that encompasses both his roots and his future. Following the footsteps of his great-grandfather and grandfather, Attila Menyhárt chose a career as a confectioner, but after graduating from catering school, he sought more adventure and greater challenges for existential, professional and financial reasons.

It was almost by chance that life took him to the high seas, more specifically, that he sailed the seas on Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas Cruise Lines for six years from 1999. This allowed him to travel the world, but not only in the practical sense of the word: in a multicultural environment, he was able to work with chefs and pastry chefs from every corner of the world, while being exposed to technologies and ingredients that were unknown in Hungary at the time.

“It’s important to find and represent your own style.”

Then came various European chapters in his life. He worked in Ireland as a gastronomic manager, then in London’s fine dining scene, and in 2015 he was invited to Switzerland to develop the profile of a five-star hotel’s confectionery and a café. It was then that he felt a growing need to define himself, and to stand out on the professional stage in his own right, rather than wedged into other brands: thus, his own brand, Meinhart Patissier.

This is also where his strong collaboration with food photographer Antonio Fekete (who we wrote about in the first episode of this series) dates back to, as Antonio was asked to take outstanding pictures of his desserts, in line with his standards. In 2017, he reached a resting point, when he was asked by the management of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace to take on the position of head confectioner of the hotel (and its associated units, such as KOLLÁZS – Brasserie & Bar). They had confidence in his expertise, his cosmopolitan, experimental style and the quality he has always openly strived for.

“Make everything impeccable.”

Attila represents French-style confectionery—based on high-quality ingredients, state-of-the-art technology, and respect for tradition. At the same time, he’s not afraid to play, experiment and tweak things, even if it’s just a small detail, because he knows that a taste-chord of a dessert can be made up of several notes without being disharmonious if it’s carefully composed. To demonstrate this, he decided to get featured in So Good magazine, the most respected magazine in the confectionery world. He succeeded in doing so in 2019, showcasing his dessert line with Antonio’s help. A year later, he was featured in another of the publisher’s editions, the Dulcypas magazine, presenting, among other things, white truffles as a Hungarian confectionery ingredient.

This is not only about me. Lajos Bíró once said that it’s our turn to revolutionize the confectionery industry in Hungary, and that gave me an idea.

He didn’t rest even during the epidemic, but carried on making plans, brainstorming and teaching. For instance, he held a workshop at the invitation of the National Trade Association of Hungarian Confectioners: the participants were from the best confectioners in the country. For Attila, it is important that the spotlight is not necessarily on him, but on the love of the profession and professionalism, so he gave the candidates the task of choosing a cake from their own repertoire, and he prepared it in the Meinhart way.

He always designs his cakes with a concept in mind: he imagines a sight he wants to create and starts by making the ingredients that also fit the flavor. For the plated desserts, it’s the other way round: you have to create a dish that fits in with the menu and the concept of the restaurant. It’s important for him that the ingredients shine in their own right, so, for example, in a citric dessert, too much sugar shouldn’t overshadow the acidity. Because as small as a detail can be, it can also be just as powerful. Take chocolate, for example: the Sopron-based Harrer brand makes a special type of it just for him.

And speaking of chocolate… Attila’s great ambition was to participate in a world competition. He became the first Hungarian to qualify for the World Chocolate Masters finals after winning the Central European stage. The theme was “tomorrow,” the taste, look and feel of the future and how art can meet science, technology and design. The brief was to create a French dessert, a 100% plant-based snack, a bonbon and a chocolate sculpture weighing up to 5 kg in 8.5 hours, without a commis, and a 3-minute video to demonstrate the concept. A world competition like this is an incredible challenge that cannot be done alone—without the support of a team of 11 and the sponsors, success would not have been possible. The members of the team are Erhan Dávid Barna, Bálint Berkes, Zsombor Czeglédi, Levente Szűcs (image film), Zsófia Burányi (PR consultant), Márk Dani (chocolate specialist, consultant, founder of CALICO chocolate), Vanda Dóra Demcsák (sculptor, A.V.A.N.D. A), Dávid Domonkos (chocolate artist, confectioner), Mihály Eszes (3D design and printing, 3DEE), Antonio Fekete (food design and photography, founder of Designfood), Krisztián Füredi (master confectioner, Hisztéria Confectionery), Kata Gali (graphic designer), Karl Harrer (Chocolate confectioner, Harrer Chocolate Workshop), Alexandra Horváth (confectioner, assistant, Egy csipet torta), Balázs Sipos and Zsolt Hanzély (packaging design and execution, Sipospack Kft. ), Kinga Szász (pastry chef, assistant, Chouchou), Attila Veszely (chocolate instructor, master confectioner), Lili Zsabokorszky and Apor Püspöki (design, execution, founders of APLI Design Ltd.).

I have always planned ahead. And now I’m going for first place.

The finals will be held in Paris in the autumn, the brief is more than 80 pages long and the stakes are high. That’s why the next few months will be very intense for him, while he also works on the Four Seasons’ dessert collection, which is renewed every three months. He wants to be the best in the finals and in his job, and he’s also aiming for other accolades—like more and more people in the industry, he wants to reform the quality of education, as there are plenty of good professionals but training opportunities are, to put it mildly, underdeveloped. Whereas there is a wealth of talented people who have a future on the international stage, provided they are equipped with the right skills and experience. Because the recipe for success is not so complicated: quiet humility, determined precision, perfectionism, courage and teamwork. If these are in place, we’re on the right track.

Photos: Dániel Gaál

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