Cocina Argentina | Part 1 | 18 March 2013

It is difficult to explain why it took me so long to put my mind into a writing mode again and get myself immersed in my thoughts… Truth be told this blog is just the simplest way I’ve found to put my ideas in order, challenging all the information my head is producing and lining it up with some sort of structure -or at least with sense and motive…  Just as my “good friend” Haruki Murakami mentions in his book “What I talk about when I talk about running”…

In order to write and especially for those who were born without natural talent (clearly me!), you need discipline and consistency, like training for a marathon. Otherwise your body (our mind in this case) won’t be able to cope and resist… I guess you can picture myself with mental cramps next to my laptop.

Anyway… having opened last November my second venture in London with moderate success, I often find myself responding about COCINA ARGENTINA … past, present and especially future…

Believe or not, the raw is that in my first 15 years of professional cooking I had absolutely nothing to do with Argentine cooking. As a matter of fact I could not have been further from it…  Therefore let me tell you how it all began…

It was back in April 2008 when I was cooking in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks. I was invited to host a Cooking Festival at the Lumiere Restaurant located within the IFC Towers buildings, together with HK legend Chef Ronald Shao, a great honour and an amazing experience. Together with Chef Shao we worked for many months before the event brainstorming about different menus, structures and dishes. We finally agreed to offer two tastings menus, a 5 course for lunch and a 7 course for dinner.

Both menus were a combination of Chef Sao’s wining Szechuan cuisine and the Modern European (always hated that word…) that I was doing back then. I was working with Mediterranean flavours since my departure from Marcus Samuelsson’s Scandinavian (Nordic cuisine –aka Noma- as it was unknown back then) restaurant Aquavit in NYC back in 2002, but was slowly starting to have serious and strong doubts about the direction of my cooking.

Please don’t get me wrong, dishes were great, my job certainly challenging but something was missing and I was not feeling satisfied with my day-to-day cooking at all. Suddenly I was questioning everything about the food I was doing and it was the first time I felt terribly insecure and unconfident about menus, products and dishes…. certainly not happy times…

But the job is the job, and our kitchen world rarely allows for moments of insight, so with all that extra luggage of “Mixed Emotions” by Rolling Stones I headed to HK to face a massive event… fun! As you can imagine as resilient and competitive as I am, the event ended up being extremely successful.  I still remember it like it was yesterday all the excitement during my time there, we did a lot of press (something I was not used to), they took me to eat to amazing places, I fell in love with dim sum, people were really great and I was seconds away from moving to HK, with a solid contract to launch a restaurant… but something happened…

The truth was that inside I was feeling lost, without soul, with nothing to give (yes, believe or not, we chefs do have feelings)… just empty. And the reality is that when you feel terrible you can have an elephant in front of you and still you wouldn’t see it…

All the critics loved the menus and food but nobody was truly raving about it… I suddenly started to wonder why whilst I was speaking with a food critic and I could clearly feel her excitement about a simple but honest product: Dulce the Leche. As polite as she was trying to be, she simply didn’t care about my time at El Bulli or anything else: she only wanted to know about ARGENTINA…

Although I responded in detail (Dulce the leche is by far my favorite product in the world), I was feeling confused and when I was telling Chef Shao about it later, he literally confessed his love for the Chimichurrri sauce, which I especially did for him. I actually ended up exchanging Dim Sum cooking classes at Michelin star Restaurant Cuisine Cuisine for 50 litres of sauce before they let me go (!)…

In professional terms, Argentine cuisine and products were a totally unknown territory for me besides my childhood memories. However, I found myself talking so passionately about them that it felt like I was a brand new person… excitement was pouring out of me so intensely that was almost annoying being next to me…

Most importantly I started remembering all the smells, textures and sensations of my happy days in Patagonia… like simply Trout grilled next to the lake with caramelized lemons, whole lamb with mint vinaigrette, home made jams, wild board charcuterie, sweetbreads, amazing wild strawberries and so on… it was all coming back so vividly and strongly that I was having problems keeping it inside…

It just felt so right it hurt. At that exact moment I made myself a promise to drop it all and dedicate myself entirely to COCINA ARGENTINA… How? Well, those who really know me can tell you I would worry about that later…

Love,

DJ