Eatnorth catches up with south Manchester-based Chimney Cake Co. ahead of Góbéfest

Emel Docherty and her partner Milan Szarics , founders of Chimney Cakes Co.
Emel Docherty and her partner Milan Szarics , founders of Chimney Cakes Co.

Tantalise your taste-buds with a visit to Góbéfest, the UK’s Transylvanian festival of arts, music, dance, culture and food at Manchester’s Albert Square this weekend (22-24 June 2018).

Last year saw 10,000 visitors revelling in traditional folk dancing and sampling Transylvanian craft beer and delicacies including chimney cake and lángos.

The festival was established in 2017 to celebrate the little-known culture and traditions of the Székler people – a group of ethnic Hungarians living in Transylvania, which is part of Romania. A Góbé is a friendly word for a ‘crafty Székely’

This year’s free event also includes culture and folklores of 10 other European countries, including Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Lithuania, Croatia, Hungary, Greece and Slovakia.

New additions will include a bar selling pálinka, a traditional spirit drink from the Carpathian Basin region that can be anything up to 86% proof.

Mancunians will also be able to sample mititei for the first time, a highly spiced and skinless sausage that is a BBQ favourite across Romania.

Eatnorth caught up with the entrepreneurial Emel Docherty and her partner Milan Szarics of Chimney Co. (Traditional Transylvanian spit-cooked sweet pastries) .  The south Manchester duo launched the company in 2017 to bring a touch of their home comforts to the UK.

Picture of Chimney cakes standWhy did you decide to launch the Chimney Co.?

Milan and I worked together at the David Lloyd café. Milan is from Csongrad in the south of Hungary, about 90 miles from Budapest. Despite living here for 12 years, he missed his home comforts. His mum makes everything from scratch using seasonal produce – from her delicious cakes make using fruits and nuts grown on their land – to her homemade pasta and, flavoursome stews and soups.

And his dad makes the family’s sausages by hand. He also brews his own Palinka and wine from the cherries and fruit he grows.

I am from south Manchester. I followed in my mother’s footsteps by working in catering. She is a trained chef and taught Food Technology. I used to go into school with her when she ran cooking holiday clubs and deliver cakes to cafes in Manchester as a child – often in my pyjamas, jamming out to Take That in the car!

We both saw a gap in the market and decided to make a go of making wholesome Hungarian food as it has been done for generations. Cooking is our passion!

Why Chimney Cakes?

I first tasted a chimney cake during a visit to Hungary to meet Milan’s family. It had the wow factor! I knew we had to bring this delicious tradition to Manchester.

Nobody was promoting this handcrafted product baked in a traditional way over charcoals (creating a live theatre for our customers) in Manchester.

The chimney cake or kürtőskálács (translating as bull horn) originates from the 15th century in medieval Transylvania (once part of the Hungarian empire). We were bringing not just food, but a taste of Hungary’s rich history.

Why Manchester?

We both live in south Manchester and we love the city! It is such a multicultural place. Many of our customers are Hungarian but people of all nations enjoy our chimney cakes. For many people our cakes bring back memories of travel to Hungary, Prague or Germany. Many countries in Eastern Europe have their own version of the original Hungarian spit-cooked cake. Most of our customers are people that have never tried it before. I give them a bit to try and they fall in love with them.

Is it hard to run your own business?

We are both very creative and hands on in creating The Chimney Co. we have channelled all our creative energy and experience into it. Our craft is our passion and we especially love making people happy. At the moment we both have full time jobs, so it can be difficult to juggle our events with work, we are learning to cope with the sleep deprivation.

Financially the business is difficult at the moment, as although we are making a profit, we constantly have to reinvest the money into stock/ equipment. We will have to buy a bigger van soon as we are quickly out-growing our current reliable little Nissan Kubista (which we love).

It also took us a long time to get the method and recipe spot on. Every time we do a market we learn something new about how to set the stall up better, or load the van more efficiently, or improve our serving method.

Where do you sell the cakes?

We sell our freshly made chimney cakes at markets and events around the north. We listened to what our customer’s wanted from us. In the beginning we were only selling the traditional hollow chimney cakes. Lots of customers asked if we filled them with anything, so we invested in a portable ice cream freezer and our chimney cones flew out of the stall!

Poor Milan can’t make them quick enough! Our product sells itself. People can smell the warm Madagascan vanilla sugar from a far, which draws them over. We don’t push our customers to buy. I offer everyone a sample from that our freshly baked chimneys sell themselves.

 What advice can they give to others?

I would give other people wanting to start a food business the advice of finding a niche for your product. We live in a world where the market is saturated and customers are spoilt for choice. You need something that stands out. Let your personality shine on market days. Your enthusiasm and passion is what sell’s your product along with its appearance, smell and taste. I would also say most importantly, don’t give up- it is going to be hard work but never give up on your dreams because of this.

Key traits to succeed as an entrepreneur?

Milan is a very practical, creative person with the mind of an inventor. I often catch him thinking about his next project when I am talking to him. He is constantly telling me about his new ideas. His head moves at 100 miles per hour. Milan has recently discovered his love for, and talent might I add, for woodwork. He has made the front of the stall and the signage out of recycled pallet wood. He has another exciting project he is working on too, so stay tuned.

I have always worked in customer service in catering, so talking to people and having a good chat is what I do best. I love the buzz of the market, meeting new people, seeing new places and of course trying lots of delicious food. We have made lots of friends from markets, and met lots of interesting people from all over the country.

How do you make the cakes?

We make all our dough fresh on the day of the market. We use the finest quality Hungarian flour, fresh yeast and fresh lemon zest in our dough. We don’t use any preservatives or unnatural flavours, just good quality homemade dough. We also make a vegan batch of dough using coconut milk, ensuring our dairy free friends can enjoy our chimney cakes too.

The dough rises while we are en-route to our markets. When we arrive and have the charcoals fired up, we wrap our signature dough around wooden baking logs. The logs turn over the hot charcoals, until the dough is cooked and the vanilla sugar is caramelised on the outside of the chimney cake.

We then take our perfectly baked cake and sprinkle our delicious toppings onto the hot caramel. Cinnamon sugar is our best seller, our roasted walnut is my personal favourite, with the walnuts being grown in Milan’s mum Éva’s allotment in Hungary, hand picked and sent over to us.

We then fill the cones with lovely fillings like fudgy brownies homemade by my mum Meira, black cherry crumble with vanilla mascarpone and awarding winning Cheshire Farm ice cream served with Nutella and strawberries. And for our vegan cones, fresh strawberries served with a refreshing sorbet.

Picture of Chimney cakes being made

And…your hidden Manchester food and drink places?

We don’t really have time for proper meals out but we have tried lots of exceptional cuisine on the markets we work at. We love the pan-Asian street food from Woks Cluckin, Mediterranean and Ottoman inspired cuisine from The Otto-Men and Que Delicia’s Portuguese Piri Piri food.

Come and visit us this weekend!

What’s on:

Main stage:

Acts from across the Carpathian Basin region of Eastern and Central Europe.

TAMÁS SZARKA AND GHYMES – a platinum-selling Hungarian-Slovakian band who have been recording and playing together since the 1980s.

HARGHITA NATIONAL SZÉKLER FOLK ENSEMBLE –  a 38-strong folk dance group from the eastern Transylvanian region of Romania, Szeklerland including those of the minority Moldavian Csango people.

Manchester Camerata  –  Glastonbury openers, UK Ensemble of the Year and ‘Probably Britain’s most adventurous orchestra’ according to The Times.  

ANNAMARI DANCS  – a celebrated singer from the Budapest Operetta Theatre.

Hungarian pop superstar ILDIKÓ KERESZTES.

SELFISH MURPHY  – a Transylvanian Celtic punk band, with a set list that includes The Leaving of Liverpool and Wild Rover.

LA MORT SUBITE – describe their sound as Balkano Carpathian Franco Greco Russo Turco Gypsy Jazz Folk. Think of us as conjuring up images of a smoky workers’ bar in Paris, a wild night-time gathering around a gypsy campfire, a drunken Hungarian wedding party in the small hours and a Greek taverna on a hot summer’s evening.

Attila Miho & Friends  – formed in 2010 when violinist Attila was just 17. The band plays authentic folk music which is primarily Transylvanian-Hungarian in origin, but also represents the entire Carpathian Basin.

Enikő Sorbán  – a folk singer from the Szeklerland part of Transylvania.

Annamária Simo –  her band won a competition in 2017 called Transylvania’s Most Beautiful Song. Come and hear it in full – and some of their other great tunes.

Tőkés Zsolt & Friends – a six-strong family dance group from Sepsiszentgyörgy, Transylvania. Tőkés Zsolt junior is the child of professional dancers and founder of the ensemble.

Szeredás Dance Group London – formed in 2010 by a group of close friends, who shared a love of Hungarian folk dancing

Ti-Ti-Ta Hungarian Folkdance Group – is the first Hungarian dance group in the north-west. Its members live in Manchester, Warrington, Chester and Cheshire.

 

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