After several years of rising through the ranks in yachting crew, Gabor Ivanacz reached a crossroads in his life. Should he stay as interior crew having worked his way up to butler or follow his passion for food?
Having learned to cook by watching his father in the kitchen, Hungarian born Gabor decided to follow his nose. The result is Venison Gusto, a free-range charcuterie business which supplies the yachting trade and is set to expand over the next year or two into Europe’s most exclusive ski resorts.
A self-confessed wanderer who has lived and worked between London, South Africa and St Maarten in the restaurant and bar trade since leaving his home country at the age of 19, Gabor is now happy to call Antibes home. ‘I knew London wasn’t the place for me when we had 29 days of continuous rain,’ he says with a laugh. ‘I had a lot of yachtie friends and my best friend Krisztina kept asking me why I didn’t try it too.’
Gabor did his STCW 95 and ENG 1 certificates and bought a one way ticket to Antibes four years ago, landing a job as third steward on an Arabian owned yacht. ‘They promoted me to butler and I flew everywhere with them on their jet, taking care of them in their villa and on the boat.’ He continued with a stint on a 47 metre yacht in St Maarten, cooking for 12 people on board, and realised that food was where his true passion lay.
‘I read a lot about presentation and making a plate look nice and combined it with the knowledge I learned from my dad. The guests and crew loved the food I made for them. It was Hungarian cooking with different seasonings and lots of meat as the owner was a big carnivore. Carpaccios, steaks, marinated meats…I tried out lots of different ways with meat. It was a great experience.’
Following a short stint on a Russian owned yacht, Gabor was keen to get a crossing back to St Maarten, where he had spent two and a half years at the beginning of his yachting career. ‘While there, I tried charcuterie which is very similar to what I am producing now, but containing more preservatives,’ he recalls.
‘My cousin and I are meat addicts and we were sitting in his room eating it and wondering if the yachting industry would like it too. Good quality charcuterie is not easy to find. I started researching into it and here we are!’
Starting Venison Gusto was common sense according to Gabor. ‘I like quality and I believe that everything needs to be as good as the product, from the business cards to the website design. Our products are natural. So many people get cancer and all kinds of diseases these days. I worry about the preservatives that are being used in food. I bought some tarama today and it had six different kinds of E numbers and preservatives in it. These products are made in laboratories.
‘I visited a few places and saw charcuterie being made. It was quite shocking to see that what they were using wasn’t even ham, it was a paste that was completely reconstituted. It was being pushed into a plastic bag, closed and sold as ham. It had nothing to do with ham but they added things to make it taste better.
‘All I use is a curing salt. It’s not like cutting a slice of salami where it still looks the same five weeks later - it changes colour within a couple of hours. Our Salami Master and I believe it’s better to pay more and enjoy better quality. He is the third generation Salami Master in his family, his dad (pictured) and grandfather, were also masters.’
Gabor’s range of meat products includes red deer, wild boar, Hungarian grey cattle and water buffalo and their provenance is incredibly important to him. ‘Red deer and wild boar are completely wild and live in the forest. We buy the rest of our animals from people who rent forest areas from National Parks where they are grass fed. They are all free of hormones and antibiotics. It’s traditional hunting and it’s in our blood. I’m very proud that I can do something like this for my country. My goal was to do something great for the future and my friends and family are proud of what I have achieved.’
Some of Gabor’s products are highly spiced, which is emblematic of Hungarian taste buds. ‘We eat everything as spicy as hell,’ he jokes. ‘All our recipes are traditional Hungarian. Personally, I love the wild boar bresaola, but our bestseller is water buffalo salami. It’s the biggest animal we supply and doesn’t have much taste, but with spices we make it really delicious and people really like it.’
To produce bresaola takes more than two months. During marinading, salt and spices are added, then it spends time in the smoking cabin, where selected beach wood is burned. ‘The smoke preserves the meat and gives it a unique flavour,’ he explains. The final step is hanging it for three to four weeks in the humidity-controlled chamber.
With shelf lives for his products ranging from two to six months, Gabor believes they are more enjoyable after that time period. ‘It doesn’t go off, it just matures but we need to do everything according to the law, we can’t just make our own laws,’ he laughs. ‘I prefer to eat salamis from a year back…they are mature and dry, I like them like that.’
He would like to resurrect venison as a delicacy, adding: ‘People used to eat a lot of it but now they have stopped. Not many people know how healthy venison is.’
Gabor’s passion for food stems from childhood. Growing up on his parents’ farm in rural Beremend, he got used to being around sheep, lamb, chickens, guinea fowl, peacocks and horses. He started cooking as soon as he was old enough to reach the stove and use a knife. ‘When I was five, I cooked for eight people,’ he says proudly. ‘I love animals and have a lot of respect for them. I can skin a lamb or a chicken but I can’t actually kill them!’
Next on his agenda - ‘I am hyperactive! I can’t sit still and do nothing’ - is to be able to deliver his products all over Europe within 36 hours. ‘The company is growing but we have a small staff so we have to take things slowly. I love my life. Cooking for me is like reading for other people, it is a switch off.’