Thursday, 10 May 2012

Malbec Day – 17th April

Allow myself to get a bit away for the “kitchen confidential” feel of this blog and concentrate purely (late, I know…) in joining the worldwide celebration of Malbec Day last 17th April.
I know is well overdue and I promised myself not to go down the road of excuses but -trust me- this delay is for a good reason…

Let me start by saying that Malbec is without doubt the most iconic and representative grape of Argentina; although originary from France, back home is where Malbec is really surging and has become a sort of “national variety”.

History tells us that on 17th April 1853, former Argentine President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento instructed French agronomist & soil expert Miguel Pouget to bring grapevines cuttings from France to develop in Argentina.

Among all the vines that Pouget brought, there were the very first Malbec to be planted in Mendoza. Contrary to the popular belief this grape didn’t always enjoy a prime position in the Argentine wine industry; as a matter of fact some Malbec plantings were pulled out to make way for more popular varieties.

Thank God all has changed at the end of last century when a few wine producers wisely decided to focus on premium wine production for export.
Its potential and unique qualities made this grape the most widely planted red grape variety in the country and certainly the most prestigious nowadays.

Do you know as well that Argentine most highly rated Malbec wines are from Mendoza’s high latitude Districts of Lujan de Cuyo & Uco Valley?  Argentine winemaker Nicolas Catena Zapata deserves a mention here. He has been widely credited for the success of Argentine Malbec & the Mendoza region with his different experimentations in high altitude.
In 1994 Catena was the first winemaker to dare to plant Malbec at almost 1,500 m elevation in the District of Tupungato. The results were outstanding and definitely the milestone for a new era in the “Argentine Wine Industry”
Together with Casa Malevo’s Restaurant Manager Roberto Tavoloni you can find below a selection of our favorites Malbec’s… Salud!

Susana Balbo 2009 (Agrelo. Mendoza)
AVB 14.5% / Malbec (95%) Cab Sauv (5%)
Extremely pleasant with food or on its own; this neat, velvety and smooth wine shows why Susana Balbo is the most prestigious enologist in Argentina.

Laborum 2007 (Cafayate. Salta)
AVB 14.2% / Malbec
Malbec these days means Mendoza, well not always. From vineyards located at 1750mts above sea level in the very north of Argentina, a true powerful, masculine wine that shows how versatile our star grape has become!

Achaval Ferrer "Quimera" 2008 (Medrano, L. de Cuyo and Tupungato. Mendoza)
AVB 14% / Malbec-Cab Sauv-Merlot-Cab Franc –Petit Verdot
Malbec thrives as the main grape in this extraordinary blend made with grapes from very low yield plants that bring us a complex, beautifully balance and unique wine. 

Terrazas "Afincado" 2007 (Vistalba. Mendoza)
AVB 14% / Malbec
From very old vines and only produced in exceptional years, this is a dense and rich Malbec that is not shy and will show its presence with a long and persistent finish.



Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Cooking in Europe, a dream comes true...

26th March 2012

The excitement of the first blog post (at least for me…) is almost gone… received quite of good share of positive and constructive feedback – THANKS –

But surprisingly my brother (he is 23, young talented actor living in Buenos Aires) went really deep and mystical criticizing my first humble incursion in the writing world… He suggested that my blog was too casual and lacking structure; that was more about telling a story (my story…) than sharing recipes or thoughts… and that I should add photos… Something else?

Differences aside, I’ve realized I have never thought about what did I want to write or how to do it… reality is I just went for it… Was that a mistake? After some serious thought I came to the conclusion that I don’t really know where this is exactly going but for now I will concentrate in enjoying the ride…

Maybe it will find its way eventually…who knows? But as insanely competitive as I am I’ve decided is was time to investigate the big guns, the professionals… and after days of reading he most praised UK and US bloggers I feel stronger than ever to give it another go!!! Watch out baby brother!!!

I always knew I wanted to cook in Europe but also to live here; I grew up surrounded with crazy histories from my father, who lived several years in Europe in his mid-twenties as a freelance photographer and cooked in a cargo boat.

Cooking family meals for the boat crew, he was able to travel all around Europe, Africa & the Middle East… I grew up wanting the same…

For a young chef in Buenos Aires the opportunity to cook in Europe in the 90’s was almost like Mission Impossible… Back then internet and emails were not as popular and elementary as are today and to be able to get hold of information about top restaurants & chefs in Europe I had to wait for a lucky one to literally come back from Europe (France or Spain mostly) with photos, books & most importantly stages promises…

These lucky ones were less than 5 and, unfortunately, I didn’t know any of them. I was working at Patagonia Restaurant and money was a serious issue to achieve my dream to cook abroad. It was really difficult one as my parents were paying my Hotel Management degree and there was certainly no money for Europe…

But there was a moment I promised to myself I would make it happen: it was when Pablo Massey (then Francis Mallman’s Head Chef at Patagonia Restaurant) returned from a trip in Europe. I think he was a few days at the River CafĂ© in London and came back with a copy of Marco Pierre White first book White Heat…

I still remember the excitement in the kitchen, there was a sudden silence, everyone stopped cooking, all machines went off and we just couldn’t get our eyes away from Marco’s book cover… It looked like the cover of the Rolling Stones; so different from the classic French cookbooks I was used to read… I was amazed with the action and madness of the raw photos of the book… the food was not even important, it was the way he was cooking… it was certainly a revelation and is until today my favorite cooking book of all times… Thanks Marco!

From that moment I became a man on a mission… Now that I think it through, took me three years of savings, different jobs, few cooking competitions and -of course- some financial help from my family to make it to Spain... but nothing would’ve been possible without the help of Ramiro Rodriguez Pardo, then Chef Patron of Catalina’s Restaurant, a real classic in the restaurant scene in Buenos Aires in the nineties.

Ramiro offered me a job after he saw me winning some contest in the Expogourmandise in 1996 and then stood by me always… I will never forget that he kept my job when I had to take two months off (a very unusual gesture within the Buenos Aires food industry) to face a staggering and hopeless 7th eye recover surgery.

Ramiro is originally from Spain, almost became a priest in his youth until he discovered his love for cooking. I don’t really know how life took him to Buenos Aires, but he certainly made a name for himself in Argentina. Catalina’s was one of those classic restaurants that every city needs and I was really proud to be part of their crew.

He had good friends within the Spanish cooking industry and he was very supportive doing some calls for me. He finally arranged a full year of stages in Spain; I was ready…

Walking around at 6am in a rainy day of March 1998 in San Sebastian, Spain… suddenly I find myself in front of Casa Nicolasa restaurant… The sense of pride was enormous and the “classical Basque” cooking of Chef Jose Juan Castillo so inspiring, but that will be another story…

Next time I will show you a step-by-step Argentine style chorizo recipe & the Malbec day...

Peace in your hearts…


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Patagonia restaurant, Buenos Aires

7th March 2012

It took me a while to take the courage to write the blog. But from a long time I’ve had the necessity to share my perception of the food industry with whoever wants to hear it.

Why English? First and foremost I live in London; this is my adoptive city and just love it here. Secondly, I always thought my written English was very poor and wanted to improve it, take it as an exercise; you can certainly correct me if you want. Lastly… please bear with me… I will always be a Chef trying to write decently and never the other way around…

I still remember clearly the first professional kitchen I’ve entered and the sensations that had in me; was in April 1993 at the famous “Patagonia” restaurant in Buenos Aires Argentina, helm of award winning Chef Francis Mallmann (for those who are familiar with the Paris of the South, was the “Patagonia” at Salguero & Figuero Alcorta)

I was just 17 and was starting the Hotel Management degree in a place that was very close by. Chef Mallmann was our Basic Cooking teacher, a real treat now that I think of it: the classes were hold at his restaurant.

On another note I’ve lost the vision of my left eye in a silly but life changing accident a few years back and had given up my dream of becoming a professional football player (like any other Argentine kid…) for other activities such as Radio DJ and specially painting. But most importantly I was looking for a new passion, a team to belong to and that’s exactly what I’ve found at “Patagonia”.

I still remember the restaurant like it was yesterday with its beautiful internal patio where we used to had “family meals” (staff food) and the classy dining room. The kitchen itself was not that big but had a dessert area separated facing the street. Bread texture and aroma was the first thing they taught us, some with sundried tomatoes, some with olives but most importantly we learnt that bread is the first impression customers have from the kitchen; a serious restaurant takes his bread very seriously… wise lesson.

We were following classic training, from Hollandaise sauce to poached eggs; all was simply fascinating for me. Every time the class finished I didn’t want to go home, just wanted to stay in the kitchen, I decided to become a professional chef. After one class I remember having the courage to approach Chef Mallmann and telling him (not asking…) that I wanted to be a chef, that I wanted to join his team; he looked at me and just said, …”Are you sure? This is not a game, is a serious profession, it’s hard”… I was thinking how hard could it be? I didn’t hesitate… he looked at me and told me …”well, you will start tomorrow 7am as a commis”… I just said yes with happiness not having the slightest idea of the meaning of the word “commis”? Piece of cake!!!

Everyone now knows the meaning of the word: long hours, no weekends off, no pay, no rest, no please, no sorry, no excuse me and specially no cooking, just washing greens & peeling potatoes!!!

Strangely enough as the days went pass and my hands couldn’t hold any more blitz or cuts and my feet, oh my god, the pain in my feet!!! I understood clearly the basics of the profession, the core, the discipline, the sense of pride and just simply fell in love with the Restaurant world.

How can I forget that moment? As I’m writing this I can’t wipe the smile of my face. I was so happy… I still feel the same adrenaline and passion when I enter the kitchen of my own restaurant everyday, looking desperately for the same spark, determination and commitment in the eyes of my chefs: that’s the only way worthy of cooking.

So long “Patagonia”, thanks for everything.