Helen's Hungarian Heritage Recipes

Helen's Hungarian Heritage Recipes
Chef Ilona Szabo Reveals The Secrets of Hungarian Cooking

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hot Hungarian Chefs - Brant News - Greg McMillan

Hot Hungarian Chefs

By Greg McMillan
Friday November 20/2009 at 10:55:00 PM

The front door opens and out wafts the tangy-sweet aroma of cinnamon and baked apples.

Not a surprise, really, since this is the house owned by Helen Czégény, an 83-year-old dynamo who, along with daughter, Clara, seems to be everywhere these days promoting their cookbook featuring classic Hungarian recipes.

And once inside the home on King George Road, sure enough, there’s Helen, all smiles, coming out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a floral apron, Clara at her side.

“We made some apple squares for you to try,” says Helen, with just a touch of an Eastern European accent. “They’re just coming out of the oven. They’re simple to make, really.”

Easy for her to say. But then not everyone is like Helen. Since the first edition of Helen’s Hungarian Heritage Recipes was first published in 2006, with 100 various dishes to choose from – everything from traditional goulash soup to a potpourri of dessert items – she has been cooking up a storm.

And, in the past 10 months, with Clara ramping up public appearances – food and book ‘taste and signs’ at Chapters outlets around the province, private cooking lessons, television demonstrations and fundraising, to mention just a few – Helen often wonders what she’s gotten herself into.

“It’s the ‘getting ready’ … the unknown about what to expect,” she says. “There’s anxiety. But I always feel better when it’s over.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Back in 2006,  Helen’s family wanted to find a special way to celebrate her 80th birthday and coerced her into sharing a few of her classic Hungarian recipes for the occasion.

That quickly led to the creation of a small cookbook, with about 100 of Helen’s favourite dishes, which was going to be printed solely for birthday party guests.

But a funny thing happened – what started off as a family-only project suddenly became something more. And the first edition of Helen’s Hungarian Heritage Recipes proved a hit, selling out all initial copies in one day.

A business was born. There have been two more updates for the duo - affectionately dubbed the Hot Hungarian chefs – since then, with the third edition hitting the marketplace earlier this year, now boasting nearly 300 recipes.

Most of them go back generations, they say, originating in smalltown Nyiregyhaz, Hungary, where Helen’s mother grew up. And Helen brought them with her when she immigrated to Canada in 1953. They first became a hit among Brant County tobacco workers when the family was involved in that enterprise before moving to Brantford in 1963.

For all intents and purposes, Helen represents the ‘face’ of the operation. Her sweet, homespun demeanour  contrasts sharply with the polished cooking-show personalities that are the norm. She is a throwback.

As Clara says: “We get a lot of good reviews, and just about all of them say ‘just like grandma used to make.’ People seem to like that.”

Helen is also the voice of reason in the operation, Clara points out, constantly keeping her focused and reminding her of practical time-management matters.

“I’m more like a bull,” said Clara.

Her full-speed-ahead drive seems to be paying off, however, even though Helen has to sometimes make sure the pace doesn’t get out of hand.

They have a website, www.helenshungarianrecipes.com, and offer online sales of the book in various formats. They are maintaining, at least for them, a hectic book appearance schedule and garnering widespread media attention. Just the week, a prestigious international website and magazine out of the United States, The Art of Eating, is publishing a review of the cookbook.

“It should be interesting to see what results from that,” said Clara. “They have a large following around the world.”

No matter what happens growth-wise, both say they will remain true to their original vision. And just as they, understandably, relish additional book sales, they don’t intend to abandon the less-publicized side of their endeavour – charitable causes around the world.

From day one, Helen has been donating proceeds in support of Hungarian mission projects, while Clara has been involved with international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, sending out gift boxes to needy children world-wide.

At the heart of it all – and that won’t change – is the daily cooking routine.

“I still like to sit down for a dinner every afternoon,” Helen said. “It keeps me going.”