Spicing up our palates
Life’s menu includes everything from protecting urban pollinators to Hungarian sausage for this urban ecologist.
As an urban ecologist who worked as a postdoc researcher at the University of Helsinki after completing his PhD in Hungary, Ferenc Vilisics’ range of interests has taken him from the field of biology to that of cooking, and back.
After finishing another chapter of his academic life, Ferenc decided to put his theoretical knowledge into practice. He recently took a job at an urban greening company, and is currently experiencing life on the other side of the theoretical. “I have spoken at a conference about how to protect urban pollinators and therefore bees,” he explains. “But not many people from universities approach gardeners to teach them what the best practices would be if we want to accomplish this.”
Experiencing this, Ferenc has made it his goal to encourage the company he works for to keep some of the bushes and green spaces instead of cutting them for the sake of pretty flowers, in an attempt to preserve these biodiversity hotspots.
Ferenc also has a keen interest in sausage-making. Prompted by his experience of a Restaurant Day in Helsinki, when he and a friend made over 15 kg of fresh sausages and sold them all, Ferenc has organised sausage-making courses, as well as Hungarian cooking classes. During one of their classes, Ferenc’s newly-acquired manual meat-mincer broke, so he bought an electric one with five of his friends. Now the group calls themselves “The Broken Mincers”, and they get together several times per year to make sausages – unfortunately at this stage they only make enough to fulfil their own, as Ferenc put it, wolfish desires.
As for the ingredients, the meat is important because nothing but 100 per cent meaty goodness goes into this product, while the spices are essential and must be measured with precision. There is no room for improvisation here. Fat is key because it carries spicy flavours and since the capsaicine molecule that paprika contains is fat-soluble, it plays a significant role. Most of the usual ingredients such as salt and garlic can be found in Helsinki, but good paprika is brought in from Hungary.
Sausage-making is a long process, Ferenc reminds, involving many steps and several hours of preparation. Given the tasty flavours on offer, I would say it’s worth the effort!