Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Eastern European Inspirations Play Key Role in Developing New Pittsburgh Restaurant

Chef Trevett Hooper traveled thousands of miles searching for authentic ideas for Legume and his forthcoming eatery, Dacha.




PHOTOS BY HAL B. KLEIN
 

Last month, I wrote about exploring the Hungarian drinking scene with Allegheny Wine Mixer’s Sean Rosenkrans. This week, I look at eating in Hungary with Legume chef/co-owner Trevett Hooper and then a bit about his journey in Poland and Russia.

“Seeing other people do what you’re trying to do in very different contexts is very encouraging. It’s rejuvenating. It’s inspiring,” Hooper says.

He’s been back in the kitchen at Legume for a couple of weeks now, and he has had some time to reflect about his experience abroad.

“When you read about [international] food, there can be a lot of lore around it, especially as an American cook,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot about cooking other nationalities' cuisines from cookbooks. But to go somewhere and really have a goulash — know how that base combination of lard, onion and paprika tastes, is supposed to taste — was really great.”
 


Take the humble fish stew we had for supper at the Paulay Winery and Guest House: The stew was a murky broth of pulverized fish bones, onion, marjoram and paprika, capped with two inches of warm lard stained red with more paprika. It looked like a river gone wrong, but the flavors of the carp and catfish (caught that morning) mingled with the flavored lard in ridiculous harmony. It was a lesson in how other cultures take flavors we think might clash — such as seafood and pork fat — and turn them into something special.

Our visit to László and Olga Rendek’s hog farm in the Hungarian countryside was unforgettable. We spent more than eight hours watching the Rendeks process a Mangalitsa hog, a heritage breed famous for lard.
 


We had two meals as we broke down the hog. The first, roughly translated as “fried blood,” was a mix of fresh blood, stale bread, onion and cooked in lard. Later, we ate paprika sausage, blood sausage and offal (heart, lungs, spleen … all the inside bits) sausage. The offal sausage was a bit challenging for me, though I appreciated the use of the whole animal. Hooper was unfazed.

“I wish all the food I ate came from a place like Olga’s farm,” Hooper says.
 


Hooper says that after we parted ways at the Budapest train station, he had a few experiences that were incredibly influential on his thoughts about how to move forward with cooking in Pittsburgh. Foremost was his visit to LavkaLavka Restaurant in Moscow.

He’d connected with the owners of the restaurant on social media and forged a deeper bond once he was in Moscow.

“They have a very similar aesthetic and a very similar community oriented way of running a business, and that was so interesting to see how some place that has the same values but with totally different influences and models can be parallel,” he says.
 


Hooper says Dacha, his planned eastern European restaurant, likely won’t open for at least a year, but his experiences in Hungary, Poland and Russia will be noticeable at Legume quite quickly. He and his kitchen team already are honing in on a Legume version of the Polish classic Zurek, a rye-sourdough soup with marjoram, allspice and garnishes.

I’ve had a few weeks to think about my thoughts, too, and when Hooper and I spoke last week, we both reached similar conclusions: Food culture should be based in locality and rooted in tradition, but it should never remain stagnant.

“I’m pretty conservative, but that was an eye-opener. Tradition is an evolving thing. If traditions are totally static, they often die,” Hooper says. “If something is real and meant to last a long time, it will also be somewhat dynamic.”


 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The 400-Word Review: The Lion King

Despite a great voice cast, the new version of "The Lion King" was a bad idea from the start.

Why These 6 Days in 1969 Were So Important to Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but we're not the only ones. We take a look at six notable events from 1969.

Women in Power: The Pros Changing Allegheny County

Allegheny County breaks the old boys’ club by placing women in key positions.

Growing Together: Farmers and Chefs Elevate Pittsburgh Dining

These seven farmer/chef pairings are leading the charge toward more vital vegetable dishes.

Afraid to Go to the Dentist? Consider the Sedation Solution

For some patients, dental work wouldn’t be possible if they were fully alert.

Restaurant Review: Spirits & Tales at the Oaklander Hotel

Executive chef Jessica Lewis’ strong voice is undermined by inconsistencies throughout the restaurant.

Perspectives: A Big Life

A former newspaper reporter's assignment leads to a lifelong friendship with a man who battled a food addiction.

Our 50 Years: Why This Movie Landed on Our Cover

Hollywood could be found on the Mon, quite literally, in 1993 — leading to some fawning coverage of the mostly forgotten (but very, very Pittsburgh-centric) action flick “Striking Distance.”

George S. Kaufman’s Sensational Scandal

The Pittsburgh-born playwright made tabloid headlines in the 1930s. (it didn’t slow him down a bit.)

You Can Ride a Roller Coaster Classic

Roller coaster history is hidden nearby — and not where you might think.

Tea, Cake and Death: A Safe Place to Discuss a Scary Subject

“Death Cafes” seek to reduce taboos around the act of dying.

How He Makes the Mundane Sound Magical

Experimental sound artist R. Weis creates otherworldly sonic compositions from everyday materials.

Uber’s New Service Puts Riders in the Driver’s Seat

Passengers in Pittsburgh now can pay for a most customized experience with Uber Comfort.

The 400-Word Review: Secret Obsession

Netflix is on a bit of a hot streak with its original thrillers. Unfortunately, this dud isn't part of it.

After Dark Hall of Fame: Primanti Bros.

The beloved bar-and-restaurant chain has become a Pittsburgh emblem. It's the 10th inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.