From a Winepress House to the Bib Gourmand Award – We spoke with Miklós Forrai, owner of Casa Christa


Miklós Forrai and his wife, Kriszta Forrai Kovács, have always been passionate about the Balaton region, so it was a no-brainer to make their dream come true in the area. They immediately fell in love with the Balatonszőlős estate: it all started with the purchase of one press house, followed by another seven, and today Casa Christa, evoking a Tuscan atmosphere, is spread over 45,000 square metres on the Kis Gella Hill in Balatonszőlős.

This past October, Casa Christa hosted a mini-conference, supported by the VEB2023 European Capital of Culture programme, "The Path of Biodynamic Wine-making in Hungary vs. Neighbouring Countries". The roundtable discussions were followed by fine dishes and a tasting of samples supplied by biodynamic wine makers.

What was the subject of the event? Who spoke on the topics?

During the discussions, we looked at what is happening in the rest of Europe. One of the speakers was Zsolt Zadravecz who headed the Sepp Moser Winery for 25 years and is the recipient of the Demeter Certificate, the highest accolade in the biodynamic world. Also present were the Wasmann family who have outstanding experience in biodynamic winemaking in Hungary and Frigyes Bott, a great expert on the subject. The speakers came with a fantastic wealth of knowledge and impressed the professional audience, which included winemakers, vintners and sommeliers.

Are you planning further similar events related to biodynamic winemaking?

Yes, we would like to explore this subject in greater depth. It is a very fascinating topic, and it brings us closer to sustainability. It's incredible how biodynamics is so environmentally friendly and environment-conscious. We also have quite a few such products on our wine list. It's crucial to showcase the products of the surrounding wineries, so we primarily list wines from the region on our wine card.

You were present as an exhibitor at one of the biggest gastronomic events of VEB2023 ECOC, the Balaton Wine & Gourmet. What was your experience at the event?

Although the weather was far from favourable, Wine & Gourmet made a fantastic debut. I have to emphasise that it was very well organised and provided a lot of positive experiences for the participants, making them forget the inclement weather. The idea, the organisation, the environment – everything was ace.

Looking at your work to date, it is clear that you have long been a prominent figure in the catering scene in Budapest. What gave you the idea to start something new near Lake Balaton while you are also running the Alessio restaurant in Budapest?

As a child, I spent much time at Lake Balaton, so I love the place. The north shore, in particular, is my favourite, and it's always been linked to gastronomy. Interestingly, in the old days, you could present the guests almost anything, be it a restaurant, a landscape, or a market, they always valued everything that was foreign higher than what they had at home. In recent years, the picture has improved somewhat; people have started to appreciate domestic tourism. My aim with Casa Christa is to provide guests with a domestic experience that they can look back on with pleasure. Fortunately, our record shows that the estate makes people feel fantastic. They no longer need to travel abroad because they can find this beauty just an hour and a half’s drive from Budapest. You can see the lake from many places in the Balaton Uplands, and the whole area is so beautiful and captivating that it was clear to us that if we were going to do something new, we would do it by Lake Balaton.

Why did you end up choosing Balatonszőlős?

It was by pure chance that our dream came true in Balatonszőlős. We were lucky because everyone truly supported us. Szőlős is a tiny village with about 600 inhabitants. When we arrived, they quickly understood that our aim was not to destroy anything but to create something new. The whole Casa Christa blends in with its surroundings. We renovated the press houses; we planted vineyards and almond trees. You often find that when you come from far away, the locals are suspicious. Not here and that helped us mentally in achieving what we envisioned relatively quickly and smoothly.

The exterior of the estate is Tuscan in style. What characterises the gastronomy at Casa Christa?

We offer international dishes with elements of Hungarian cuisine, but we don't shy away from a French touch, either. Benjamin Gerstmayer and Edit Kovács are very talented chefs and cosmopolitan people who perfectly harmonise the different concepts. It is a delight that we speak the same language. From a gastronomic point of view, I wanted to try my hand away from Budapest and create a place that even Budapest people would be willing to drive to because the of taste our food is worth the trip. Our experience is that it seems to have worked.

You have even attracted the attention of the Michelin inspectors, who recently awarded you with one of the highest gastronomic accolades, the Bib Gourmand Award. Were you expecting it?

Absolutely not. It's incredible that we received the Bib Gourmand Award. We are still euphoric. I've been in gastronomy for 27 years, and since the beginning, I've tried to work in a way that demonstrates what qualifies as good gastronomy. We don't work to win prizes; we work because we love our guests and want to give them an authentic experience from the moment they walk into the restaurant, through the atmosphere that greets them, the waiters, the wine selection, to the moment we put the food on the table. We eat with our eyes first, so the visual experience, the ingredients and finally, the taste are all equally important. So, the main point I always tell my staff is that talent is important but basically, you have to work hard and with the right amount of humility. And it's an added pleasure to be rewarded with prizes.

It is excellent feedback not only for the restaurant but also for the region.

Yes, that's exactly right, because such an award adds a lot to the municipality. We are up on the hill in a small village, and to receive an internationally recognised award in such a community is a huge recognition. I can say without being pretentious that we have put Balatonszőlős on the gastronomy map of the world. Another genius trait of the Bib Gourmand Award is that restaurants are not only expected to provide excellent quality but also good value for money. We have always strived to work with affordable prices acceptable to a broader clientele. We want to be able to talk about quality gastronomy around Lake Balaton and do away with the stereotype in the minds of the people that the area is overpriced. Fortunately, quite a few of us in the industry have been working for long enough to change this perception.

You mentioned stereotypes about Lake Balaton. What should the region improve on?

Regarding hospitality, finding the right workforce in the region is tricky. It is the real Achilles' heel of the industry these days. Also, for years everyone has been talking about a four-seasonal Balaton, which is a very difficult issue. But the great thing about the Michelin Guide is that it tested not only restaurants in Budapest but also in the countryside. It adds a lot to rural gastronomy and finally shows what amazing places exist outside the capital. It is also a great recognition that four of the six rural restaurants recognised with the Bib Gourmand Award are at Lake Balaton. Even more fantastic is that three of the four awardees are within a few kilometres of each other in Balatonfüred and Balatonszőlős. It is almost a miracle!


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