Shaping a community of one’s own

People
Ed Halmagyi stands at the door to Avner's Bakery

Storytelling is a unique skill reserved for those generous enough to share. And sharing and storytelling isn’t solely reserved to verbal stories or written stories—it’s written into community, hospitality and more importantly food. Ed Halmagyi is one of those unique storytellers who has shaped the way a generation understands the story of food and more importantly how its shared. I had the opportunity to embrace Ed’s unique storytelling abilities and it revealed how deeply intertwined they are with his heritage, community and food.

At a young age Ed had a defiant personality and perhaps struggled to find a space that acted as an outlet. Food—specifically baking and that “tribe”—offered that canvas for Ed. This bakery space brought about a new connection for Ed and a sense of community.

“I love the creativity of it, I love the process of it, and I love the outcome. But I think for me, the very first thing that it gave me was a sense of connection to other people, it was the environment of the workplace itself,” Ed said.

“I started to realise that if you took the time and invested the energy to do something properly, you could actually make other people’s lives really quite lovely.”

Sharing became the central heartbeat of Ed’s career a little later in his life, but curiosity become his first propellor into the world of food. After his work in a bakery, he moved on to the restaurant scene as a pastry chef where autonomy was his self-proclaimed structure as he developed his skills.

“You tend to get to work on your own a little bit more and so, there’s a bit more independence which suited me. [It] means you also get to be more creative,” Ed said.

“With very few exceptions, the head chefs in most restaurants have no fucking idea what they’re doing when it comes to dessert work. They don’t understand the process, they don’t understand the intent and if you ask them for their input, eventually, at some point, they’ll say the words ‘chocolate mousse’ and you just roll your eyes and say, ‘okay pal, whatever’.”

Setting the scene

Ed wears a white shirt. He has a dirty white oven mitt on and is pulling a try of cooked bagels from an oven.

Ed at work in the Avner’s kitchen

Ed’s work in restaurants took him overseas to embrace a restaurant scene lesser known by Australians in Canada. Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island was a highlight of his time overseas with a unique offering of ingredients that further let his creativity grow.

“It is still I think, the most remarkable job I’ve ever had… it’s in the middle of a forest. This is the late 90s, early 2000s well before anyone’s doing farm to plate kind of stuff,” Ed said.

“Two thirds of the fresh ingredients, literally sourced directly from the First Nations communities who live in the forest [so you] didn’t really know what you’re going to cook with. One day I have salmon, the next day they’ll have crab and I’ll have gooseneck barnacles and then crab again, and then they’ll turn up with the back haunch of a bear and you go for ‘fuck’s sake, what do I do with that’?”

Once Ed landed back on Australian shores he was launched into his career at Better Homes and Gardens where he earned his TV nickname ‘Fast Ed’. Although he never expected to work in television, when asked to do a screen test Ed agreed and he landed the gig presenting on Better Homes and Gardens. For two decades Ed was known to Australian families as the man who could help create incredible food and incredible experiences in their own homes. His work at Better Homes and Gardens saw him in locations across the globe including Ho Chi Minh city and some places a little closer to home like the remote outback of Western Australia.

Although Ed was thrust into locales of different countries with different customs his attitude remained defiant where he forged his own experiences and experiences for the locals.

“[We] set up a one night pop up restaurant in the back streets of Ho Chi Minh City for no reason other than the fact that you can. It wasn’t part of the plan, wasn’t in the schedule. They wanted me to just do a cooking demonstration in the market and I said, ‘no fuck that’,” Ed said.

“We literally just paid a guy $100 to have his living room on a back alley for one night. We borrowed a bunch of plastic chairs and tables and set up a 40-seat restaurant and served 200 covers. I mean, that’s fun.”

A new direction

Staff at work in Avner's Bakery.

Avner’s Bakery

Ed’s passion and awe when it comes to food seconds his completely un-selfish approach to sharing experiences with others. His ability to step aside from what he creates and let it speak freely continues to be reflected in his new venture, Avner’s. In November of 2023 Ed announced he was stepping down from his role at Better Homes and Garden’s to open his own bakery inspired by his Jewish heritage.

Avner’s—which comes from Ed’s Hebrew name—is a traditional Jewish bakery serving up authentic dishes including Sourdough Bagels, Babka, Challah and the full works and schmears to add to the Bagel of your choice.

Ed’s Jewish heritage is something he didn’t truly connect with until later in life and he now has the ability to bring it to life in his own vision and in his own community.

“I have always had a deep fascination with my background and my heritage just on its own merits. I guess as a very young child, partly because nobody would talk about it, they made it more interesting,” Ed said.

“As a young kid who never felt like he fit in, I wanted to know who I actually was. A big part of how I did that was by finding out a little bit more about myself as a history student at university.

“I wrote my major research thesis on an interdisciplinary study of how psychology and history can illuminate people’s misunderstanding of their own personal history, during the Holocaust through to the Hungarian Revolution.”

Ed sits out the front of Avner's

Ed sits out the front of Avner’s

Avner’s is becoming the blank pages of a book in which Ed and the community he is building can write their story. Through food, through hospitality and through connection.

“When I get in at 2am, the street frontage doors open and they don’t close until we turn off the lights at about 6:30 at night,” Ed said.

“Anybody can come in at any time, sit down on a stool have a chat. Four-year-olds want to learn how to make a bagel. Great! Grandmothers want a recipe for Matza ball soup. Great! Local drunk teenagers at three in the morning need a glass of water and a sit down? Great.

“That’s what community is. You either live it, you believe it, or you don’t. And I do. I absolutely believe in community and its importance.”

As I’m sure many people may feel when they visit Ed at Avner’s, walking away from a phone call with Ed left me changed. His measured tone radiates a grounded connection to his spirituality and the wisdom he brings to his bakery and his community.

 

 


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