Tradition & History

Famous Hungarian Inventors – Part Two

Hungarians are proud of their scientists and inventors, but few know that the world of cuisine also owes much to Hungary.

The Four Seasons Hotel in New York, AS Roma football club and a champagne house in South Africa are all connected to Hungarians.

1. György Láng (1924–2011): A top gastronomist

Láng escaped from a forced labor camp during World War II and emigrated to America in 1946, where he pursued a career as a chef and then as a restaurant manager.

Co-founder of the New York Four Seasons, he was part of the first American high-end restaurant to offer a seasonal menu pairing American wines, a written English menu instead of French, and a guest room decorated by Mark Rothko, a world-renowned abstract painter. 

He was also named in the launch of the Hotel des Artistes, next to the Lincoln Center, which was originally intended as room service only, but within a short space of time became New York City’s most upscale art restaurant.

Láng successfully avoided the intimidating over-luxurious feel that was so typical of the upper class New York restaurants at the time and, in his own words, created an “elegant bistro” instead. The restaurant operated for many years at No. 1 West 62nd Street, but finally closed its doors during the financial crisis in August 2009.

Láng returned home to Hungary after the change of regime, bought the famous  Gundel restaurant in Budapest and revived it.

2. Pál Kövi (1924–1998): A restaurateur for the elite

Kövi was an agricultural engineer and soccer player who emigrated to Italy in 1947 and ran a restaurant in the Italian capital while playing for AS Rome football club. In 1950 he moved to New York with his family, where he graduated in manager studies.

In 1966 he took over the Four Seasons from György Láng. He ran the restaurant for nearly twenty years, during which time it became a hub for the elite, from George Bush to Henry Kissinger and Muhammad Ali Pele, from Woody Allen to Kurt Vonnegut.

3. Dezső Pongrácz (1924-1985): An African champagne pioneer

The peak of aristocrat Dezső Pongrácz’s life is undoubtedly that thanks to his influence on South African wines, a champagne house was named after him.

After graduating in Budapest, following Siberian warfare and the 1956 revolution, he headed to a Namibian farm. From here, he moved his headquarters to Africa’s most important wine region, Cape Town. 

As a professor at Stellenbosch University, he has done much to renew local wine culture, and his textbooks are still used today.

He naturalized chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc in South Africa, as well as champagne making techniques using the Champagne method. The winery bearing his name is still in operation today.

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