George Ujvary is a multi-tasker with an appetite for the delicious things in life. He is managing director of his family business, Olga’s Fine Foods, a small-goods and meat manufacturer, sits on the board of FoodSA, South Australia’s peak industry body for the food and beverage industry, and blogs at The Foodologist, one of Adelaide’s earliest food blogs. He also has a Masters in Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu and studied the Le Cordon Bleu Masters of Arts (Gastronomy) at Adelaide University.
Everybody, meet George!
George, have you always known that you would work in the food industry?
I’ve grown up around the food industry with parents first running a restaurant and then running a food business so it was always a possibility that I would enter the food industry. As a teen, I worked in the family business delivering products and working in the factory during my school and University breaks but it wasn’t until I finished my doctorate at Oxford that I made the decision to join the family business and consequently the food industry. The decision to come back to not only to the family food business but also the South Australian food industry and Adelaide itself is one that I don’t regret.
As a food manufacturer, what are some of your biggest challenges?
The food industry is an increasingly competitive marketplace with high levels of competition due to relatively low barriers to entry. As a result, firms need to be able to constantly improve their operational efficiency whilst maintaining product quality and a strong brand in order to be profitable in the long term. Similarly, industries across the board (as well as residential sectors) have also faced significant increases in the cost of power and other utilities which increases the costs of doing business.
What is most important though in particular for South Australia, is that food businesses whilst continuing to promote their own brands, also promote the benefits of buying local food. Buying your food from local producers not only makes good sense from the perspective of quality but also promotes the local economy so eating local is win/win for all South Australians.
This has been evident recently in the media coverage given to Spring Gully who recently went into administration. Thankfully, there has so far been strong support by consumers and we as an industry hope that the firm will be able to trade out of the difficulties it has encountered.
This example, however, highlights the need for consumers to continue to support local food companies on an ongoing basis.The ability of Australia to feed itself needs to be seen not only for its commercial value but also as an ongoing national strategic asset. If we let this ability diminish, it takes a long time to rebuild as animals, crops and expertise cannot be replaced overnight.
Australia has the potential to see tremendous growth in its food output as the world’s population continues to expand, however if firms are uncertain or unable to finance growth or innovation, we will lose much more than we will gain simply through gaining short term price advantages through importing which is currently more viable due to the strong Australian dollar.
You’re also on the board of Food SA.What are some of the things you have done or hope to do for SA food producers and manufacturers?
It is a privilege to serve on the board of FoodSA with a highly proactive and extremely competent CEO and board members representing some of South Australia’s most prominent food businesses. Our aims are to promote South Australian food to local consumers both in South Australia and interstate as well as abroad.
The organisation serves its members by engaging various stakeholders to ensure that the voice of the South Australian food industry is heard in the most positive way. Every time a South Australian food company wins an award or praise either locally or globally, the entire profile of every food business in South Australia is lifted just a little bit. It is my aim to ensure that whenever or wherever this happens, as many people know about it as possible.
In the coming months, I am looking forward to participating in a food mission to Hong Kong and Shanghai with FoodSA not only to help promote the message regarding South Australian foods but also to gain a better understanding about some of the fastest growing market opportunities for food companies that currently exist.
Similarly, it is important in light of recent events that have been made public regarding our food industry that local firms are ‘front of mind’ when consumers choose what goes on to their plate. This is in part where the local blogging community can help, by highlighting our growers, producers, manufacturers, retails outlets, restaurants, chefs and anyone else that supports the South Australian food industry. Thankfully, South Australia is blessed with a great number of talented brands, people and outlets that there are more than enough great stories to go around.
The recent Spring Gully response in the media and in particular, social media has demonstrated how this kind of support can make a difference and this kind of difference will ultimately go some way to help making the South Australian food industry more vibrant and stronger as we make consumers aware of the great food that is right on our doorstep.
Indeed. However writing about food is not as simple as some might think. What were the three most important things you learned from the Gastronomy course at Adelaide University?
Learning to write and in particular write about food from a group of wonderful teachers including Barbara Santich gave me the ability to verbalise my thoughts and feelings about food in a logical and more articulate manner but also within the perspective of the broader picture of food history and food culture. Through studying both the historical aspects of food and gaining a broader understanding of food culture in current society, it is much easier to understand why some things are happening in todays food scene and hopefully get a greater understanding of potentially lies ahead.
I would highly recommend that all food writing aspirants get a copy of Barbara’s book, Looking for Flavour as the content and the style are in my opinion everything a food writer should aspire to. Additionally, an insight on food history both locally such as through Michael Symons’ One Continuous Picnic and a general knowledge of food history will help aspiring gastronomes to understand why we currently eat the way we eat and why certain foods and food rituals have evolved the way in which they have. Another eye opener for me was the structure of writing a recipe which can be done in a number of ways but which is of great importance.
Finally, like with all writing, the use of words to evoke feelings and even texture, smell and taste were skills that doing this course really helped me to improve and the sheer joy of reading Brillat Savarin’s Physiology of Taste or Somerset Maugham’s Three Fat Women of Antibes really demonstrated the ability of a good writer to engage the reader. Another book I adore is Pauline Nguyen’s Secrets of the Red Lantern which is so much more than just a cookbook and is beautifully written.
You do most of your writing over at your blog, The Foodologist, which has been running since 2005. What do you most enjoy blogging about?
The blog has really existed to serve as a sounding board of my feelings and thoughts about food. When I started the blog, I was alone in South Australia for a couple of years and looked either to people like Billy Law from A Table for Two and Helen Yee from Grab your Fork as well as Chez Pim and a number of others. Now, there are plenty of local Adelaide blogs and I am learning more about blogging from local bloggers than I did before from all the other blogs.
Since doing the gastronomy course, I have become more structured in my writing, sticking mainly to recipes, reviews (of which I have now really tried to more steer towards a description of my personal experiences of a place rather than a means of providing judgement) and the odd piece of gastronomic writing.
It is hard to describe what aspects I enjoy the most and each post is written about the topic or style of article I feel like writing at the time rather than as a result of sticking to a programme or formula. For a fairly long period of time, I really enjoyed posting reviews but since I started trying to be more healthy in the last couple of years, I have been eating out a lot less and cooking more at home so writing recipes has been more enjoyable in recent times. I have also taken a fairly keen interest in trying to document as many family recipes as possible to maintain the strong food culture that exists within my family. My background is Hungarian and Estonian and my wife is of Spanish and Indian descent so as a family we have a rich food culture from which to draw on. Therefore, there is every chance that you will start to see more recipes on the blog.
As a result of my food studies, I get sent a lot of food books so I quite enjoying reviewing cookbooks. Whilst many are what you would consider more conventional in nature, I was pleased to receive via an academic colleague a book on cooking with testicles which I was most happy to review!
I imagine they are an acquired taste! Now what would you cook for a special family celebration?
Family meals are a BIG thing in both my own and my parents and in-laws houses and the type of food eaten depends either on the type of celebration and who we are visiting. For a family meal, we typically eat a lot of Spanish, Indian, Hungarian and Estonian foods. Also, because I work in the meat industry, we eat a lot of BBQ’s. I also love American style BBQ’s with things such as smoked Beef Brisket, Pulled Pork, Pork Ribs and Beer Can Chicken.
During the festive season such as Christmas and Easter, we will typically eat a baked ham or turkey but will also include Scandinavian style potato salads in which will feature plenty of dill, sour cream and pickled herring or Estonian jellied meats known as Sult. For desserts at these meals, we will have Hungarian Beigli and Kifli. New Years Eve is usually the same meal every year which will start with Oysters, then Lobster Thermidor and finished with Crepe Suzette and the only drink served will be Champagne.
When we cook for friends, I like to cook out of some of my books. I love making David Chang’s sous vide Eggs with grilled Asparagus and Miso Butter and I have loved some of the meals I have eaten by Luke Mangan at glass and Tze Khaw of the Adelaide Convention Centre where I will just try to make a dish the way I remember it. Another great meal was when we cooked a six course meal for friends from Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Book of Cookery (The ‘original’ Martha Stewart!) in honour of our house which was built around the time of the book’s release. Other times, I will just try to demonstrate an idea.
The most important thing for me though with a family meal is the sharing of the table. Whilst we might cook some great food at times, sometimes, the best meals might be a simple steak and salad so long as it is shared with the people you love that makes all the difference.
I couldn’t agree more. Now what are some of your favourite places to eat in Adelaide and what do you order at each place?
Unless it is somewhere new that we are trying for the first time, we tend to go to different places for specific dishes.
We love the pho and especially the quail (photo at the top) at Pho Ba Ria 2 and also the Salt and Pepper Squid and Steamed Barramundi with Ginger and Shallots at BBQ City. Alternatively, I love the burgers at Pearl’s Diner and Burger Theory whilst my daughter loves the Shredded Duck Soup at BBQ City and the waffles from La Waffle. Other times, I don’t care what I’m eating so long as its accompanied by a few beers at either The Exeter or The Austral.
My favourite Italian restaurant without a doubt is Enzo’s. We’ve had great meals at Press, Magill Estate, Auge and so many other places. Adelaide is really spoilt for choice when it comes to food. I think we are little ‘light on’ with regards to fine dining but the lower to mid-range is second to none and couldn’t exist without a public that knows their food, expects the best and understands value.
All photos courtesy George Ujvary.