Shared by Jeremy Salamon
Preserving a Grandmother’s Hungary
Preserving a Grandmother’s Hungary
“If we didn’t have palacsinta, there was a serious crisis in the family,” says Jeremy Salamon, the 24-year-old chef of New York restaurant The Eddy. Growing up in Boca Raton, Jeremy’s grandmother Agi always served the Hungarian dessert of crepes rolled into logs, tucking in cinnamon and sugar, dried fruits, or sour cream and nuts, or, when he and his brother were little, Yoo-hoo chocolate syrup.
“If we didn’t have palacsinta, there was a serious crisis in the family”
Agi put out the dessert on her long, white tablecloth with her floral china at family dinners. And, “when my parents would go out for a date night they’d drop us off at my grandparents’ house…. She’d put out a huge dessert display for me and my brother….two different kinds of babka, Entenmann's,” and, of course, palacsinta, Jeremy says. “She was playing up the grandma card hardcore.”
Despite their close relationship, Jeremy says he rarely spent time with Agi in the kitchen. “Once in a blue moon, I would help her make the batter or roll [the palascinta]....She’s a very proud, stubborn woman,” who has never accepted help in the kitchen. But it was more than Agi’s pride that kept Jeremy from her kitchen.
When Jeremy was 9-years-old, he told his mother he wanted to be a chef. “Just like any mother, she was like ‘Oh sure, you want to be president or an astronaut,” Jeremy recalls. “But I didn’t have any interest in my Hungarian heritage,” until he was older.
Jeremy’s family roots trace back to Hungary through Agi who lived in the Budapest ghetto through World War II and left during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, escaping to Vienna with the help of the underground and ultimately making her way to New York.
When Jeremy turned 16, he started to take an interest in Agi’s cooking and recipes, not just her palascinta but chicken paprikas and fresh pasta called nokedli. For Agi, though, the recipes and painful stories of life in Europe seem to be intertwined. “I had to pry it out of her,” he says. He would call Agi and nudge her over and over for the recipes. In college, Jeremy decided to cook a Hungarian meal for friends. He stopped by The Strand bookstore in New York and purchased the only Hungarian cookbook they had, George Lang’s The Cuisine of Hungary.
That cookbook ultimately led to a pop-up celebrating Hungarian food. “Going through this book, I just realized that people had this misconception of what Hungarian food used to be and I wanted to bring it back in a way that was approachable and colorful for a new generation,” Jeremy explains.
As his interest deepened, Jeremy traveled to Budapest, spending the summer with cousins and researching Hungarian food. But it was Agi’s recipes that he’s always looking for. On one trip to visit her in Florida, he waited with a friend for Agi to excuse herself from the room so the two could search for a collection of recipes. “I found it in a drawer under the cognac cabinet. I pulled out a folder of all of these newspaper recipes and clippings,” he says, adding that he later told Agi about it.
“I found it in a drawer under the cognac cabinet. I pulled out a folder of all of these newspaper recipes and clippings”
A few pop-ups later, he is now serving his version of a handful of Agi’s recipes at The Eddy. For Jeremy, his cooking isn’t about recreating what’s served in Hungary today. His aim, he says, is “to help preserve my grandmother’s Hungary. There isn’t a voice for that and there won’t be when she’s gone, so I feel a responsibility to make sure that’s around.”