Working at One of the World's Best Restaurants
They say only a fool makes the same mistake twice. Well consider me a fool. Five months ago, toward the start of my foodish adventure, I thought it wise to stay up drinking with some chefs following my stint at Dill Restaurant, Iceland. The result? A missed flight to New York and a hefty chunk taken from the "naughty fund" (some money set aside before my travels for such eventualities). So why then, after completing my 26th job at Chila, Buenos Aires, did I think it wise to attend the opening of the sous chef’s bar, The Steve, the night before my 6 a.m. flight to Santiago? I think you can guess the rest.
With the naughty fund now well and truly depleted, I found myself trying to charm the airline sales team to transfer my ticket to a later flight. I’m not sure how I managed it, but to my great surprise they did so at no extra cost. The only downside… I had to wait four hours before I could check in. So I did what every normal half-drunk chap would do — wrapped a towel around my head, found the nearest corner, and tried to get some shut-eye on the marble floor. I’m sure this would have worked out beautifully if it wasn’t for the fact I was a great source of amusement for everyone in the departure terminal. Every few minutes I was woken by the sound of an iPhone camera snapping away at the towel headed "gringo." If I ever appear on one of "those" BuzzFeed lists, I only have myself to blame.
But enough foolish boy and back to Foodish Boy. This whole situation arose after finishing a fantastic week inside one of Argentina’s best restaurants, Chila, currently ranked 28 in Latin America’s Top 50 by San Pellegrino, and 24 in Latin America and the Caribbean by The Daily Meal. Their food, of course, like many top restaurants in South America, makes heavy use of French techniques with a good helping of European influence. Despite this, head chef Soledad Nardelli, one of the few women who feature in the Top 50, maintains a distinctly Argentine identity, with "original" dishes that focus on the best Argentine produce from across the country. Nardelli goes to great lengths to travel the country meeting producers and tasting the landscapes of her vast and varied country. She even proudly presents all diners with a map to illustrate where Chila sources their ingredients.
Take for example, the prawn course of their seven-step taster menu. The prawns are from Puerto Madre (mid-Argentina), the algae from Tierra del Fuego (far south) and peanuts from Coroba (the north). Almost 1,600 miles separate these ingredients, which to put into perspective is four times the length of England.
Another important aspect of the Chila menu is seasonality, and I was lucky to witness a menu change midway through my time at Chila. The days before this, the kitchen had been a calm and relaxed environment with the chefs pausing between orders to teach me about their dishes. Then came Thursday and the new menu. The chefs and staff had just one afternoon to learn the new dishes and prepare for the evening dinner service. The laughs and smiles were put on hold, as each chef became incredibly focused and professional. I in contrast, beamed with delight, as the new menu meant one thing — more tasters!
As is becoming increasingly frequent with this project, I worked mainly in the pastry section. I suspect this is because I can do a limited amount of damage in this area, both to myself and the others around me. But I sometimes wonder if my slightly camp personality encourages chefs to instruct me to play around with pretty sugary things. In contrast to myself, the blokes running the grill section wouldn’t look out-of-place on the Puma’s front row. Working in the pastry section, however, gave me the privilege of working alongside one of the best pastry chefs to date, Anita. Anita is so talented, she even has a dish named after her on the menu, featuring a very badass sweet potato jam ice cream. But the real star of the show was her textures of lemon and lime — possibly the best dessert of my trip so far.
At the end of the working week, I leapt out of the kitchen a rather jubilant man. Perhaps this was in part due to the substantial amount of sugar ingested from eating a number of Anita’s desserts, but I think it was more the realization that I had completed my 26th job and was now officially halfway through my project. I was in the mood to celebrate… Did someone mention a bar opening???