Made from Scratch

Attila and Sam are not ones for shortcuts. Whether making excellent Hungarian Artisan Co salami, or housemade sammies and delicate pastries for Te Puna Deli, everything is done to the highest standards.

Attila and Sam are not ones for shortcuts. Whether making excellent Hungarian Artisan Co salami, or housemade sammies and delicate pastries for Te Puna Deli, everything is done to the highest standards.

Despite living 17,000km from his birthplace, chef Attila Kovacs experiences a taste of home
every day.

The man behind Te Puna’s Hungarian Artisan Co learned to make smallgoods while growing
up in a rural area southeast of Budapest. Each year, his extended family would gather to process
the pigs that would sustain them through a European winter.

“You’d have 20 or 30 people and it was a social event,” he says, remembering the full day of salami and sausage making that inspired his Bay of Plenty business. “There would be a party at the end
of the day, it was a big part of our whole life and culture. I missed it here, not just the feeling but
also the product I grew up with.”

Attila and English-born partner Sam Darragh also own and operate Te Puna Deli, which showcases fellow local food producers alongside house-made chorizo laced with the likes of paprika and chilli
or truffle and porcini mushrooms. The shop is Sam’s domain. It is she who ensures deli shelves are lined with New Zealand-made specialty foods and products, as well as nut butters and chutneys, organic cake mixes and teas that are all sourced from the Tauranga area. Cut flowers are grown
in Whakamārama, the sourdough bread hails from Mount Maunganui, crackers are made in Pāpāmoa, there’s cheese from Katikati and glossy fresh fruit and vegetables poking out of wicker baskets and paper bags.

Attila and Sam at the deli they’ve worked so hard to create.

Attila with his precious family cookbook.

Two years ago, the small shop expanded into an adjacent room where customers perch at simple wooden tables to devour the generously-filled sandwiches and buttery pastries made on site.
The latter are made according to Attila’s grandmother’s recipes, and he counts his Nagy Mama’s stained and ancient cookbook among his most prized possessions.

“Growing up, my grandmother was always baking lots of pastries but when she died, her cookbook disappeared. It was really old, maybe a couple of hundred years, with her handwritten notes.”

When Attila visited Hungary several years ago, his aunt found the book and gave it to her nephew.
“I always say it’s my heritage. We are using her layered pastry dough — full of butter, soft and light
— to make really good Hungarian-style pastries and cinnamon buns with caramelised apple. It takes more time, it’s more work but I think we are busy because people recognise the quality of it, and the effort and time we put into it.”

The deli’s tucked-away location behind commercial buildings certainly hasn’t hurt trade, which
now spans seven days. Two other chefs work in shifts to help meet demand, turning out the deli’s trademark hearty sandwiches filled with Attila’s slow-cooked lamb or stuffed pork belly, brisket or pastrami. “We make all our bakery products from scratch, including our popular Portuguese custard tarts and Dutch ginger shortcake, and I process the meat that goes into the sausage rolls myself, using my spice mix.”

The couple met in Ireland 15 years ago, while working in the same County Kerry pub; he in the kitchen, she front of house. They bonded over a shared love of food and travel before setting off
for a six-month stint in southern India, where they lived in a church-cum-hostel, lounged beside
the beach and prowled food markets. That was where they discovered a delicious Portuguese-style chorizo that has since inspired one of the Hungarian Artisan Co’s products. Attila’s version of the Goan delicacy uses southern Indian spices and coconut vinegar.

With bank balances depleted by further travels in Southeast Asia, the young backpackers flew
to New Zealand in search of fruit picking work. They expected to stay a few months, make some
cash, then head off again. But their timing was off and picking work was scarce when they landed
in late summer 2008. Once Attila found a cheffing job in Queenstown, the pair found themselves increasingly content to stay put. They are now New Zealand residents. “We never planned to stay,” he says. “But it’s just so easy here. The lifestyle, the mentality of the people, the friendliness of the Kiwis.”

They moved to Tauranga in 2010 so he could take up the head chef job at Mills Reef Winery.
The sausage company began at home, with a hand-cranked sausage filler and appreciative friends who insisted Attila should sell his products. Tauranga Farmers Market customers were similarly enthusiastic about the products, all made without preservatives, using free-range animals.

An artisan food contest win provided the entrepreneurs with mentoring from a business expert
and some top New Zealand chefs, which in turn led to professional branding and national sales. These days, their label can be found in retail stores around New Zealand, including Farro Fresh, Huckleberry, Moore Wilson and some Fresh Choice supermarkets, as well as specialty stores, restaurants and in several Hawkes Bay wineries.

For several years, Attila juggled full time chef work — sometimes overseeing functions for 600 people — with his growing business, while Sam worked full time for a power company and took charge of all the paperwork after hours. “There was not much sleeping,” he says. “It’s just like any other business, when you start off, you really have to put your energy into it. I really enjoyed it but it was hard.

The Hungarian Artisan Co salami range includes flavours such as Porcini Mushroom & Truffle, Hot Goan, and Mild Hungarian Paprika (kolbász)
— a traditional version made using an old family recipe.

“Then we got to a point where we thought we can’t manage both, we have to decide. That was
really, really hard. And we’d just bought our first home, so we had a mortgage.”

The shop was an add-on. Attila was using a butcher’s premises to make his Hungarian Artisan Co goods when he heard the space next door was available for rent. “We thought, let’s open a sandwich shop, really small. But that was a different level again. It meant insurance, rent, staff. We had no budget. We did everything; painted and decorated ourselves, built the shelves. We had our own time and energy but we could put in no money.

“We tried to build the business on the local community. Because of the market, we know lots of
other little food producers and we thought it was a good idea to put them all in one shop. So we’re supporting other small businesses with a similar philosophy to us: small batch, no preservatives.”

Tauranga Farmers Market is still a testing ground for Attila’s products, which have recently expanded from five to eight different salami flavours and two types of breakfast sausage. All are made using New Zealand-grown free-farmed pork that’s wood smoked and naturally dry cured for up to six weeks, in much the same way his Hungarian forebears have done for generations. Attila’s newest offerings include a French-style pork salami, La Provence, which is studded with olives, sundried tomatoes and fresh herbs. The winter Hungarian is especially lean with hints of ginger, nutmeg and white peppercorn, while the chilli flake and white wine version packs a substantial kick.

Looking ahead, the duo will continue to hunt out locally-produced goods for the shop. They already offer charcuterie platters using specialty cheeses and Atilla’s cured meats but have recently branched out into catering, too.

“It’s hard work but we love what we do and it’s satisfying, too. We started off with just the two of
us and now we have a team of eight staff including baristas, so we feel like we have really established ourselves. From here, we just want to continue operating at the same level of quality and service.
This is definitely our passion.”

thehungarianartisan.co.nz @thehungarianartisan
Te Puna Deli, ​​17b Minden Road, Te Puna @tepunadeli

Story by Sue Hoffart
Photography by Katie Cox