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Argentina's vegetarian rebels: Buenos Aires

Chacarita, Buenos Aires
+54 (11) 4555 1882
Cuisine: Vegetarian
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Beef might be the country's protein of choice but vegetarian cuisine has found a foothold in Argentina and now seems set to flourish, writes Kate Stanworth.
 
“This country of meat eaters is slowly waking up to an alternative diet,” says vegetarian chef Máximo Cabrera of Kensho in Buenos Aires. Cabrera’s vibrant dishes are a far cry from Argentina’s staple steak and spuds. He is the daring creator of a delicate sunflower seed tapenade with rocket, carrot foam and black bean guacamole and ethereal smoked tomato mousse and bittersweet marinated mushrooms.
 
Equally, fellow chef Diego Felix reports a growth in demand for healthy food in the mainly carnivorous South American country, boosted by the influx of foreign visitors since the 2002 economic crash. A follower of the slow food movement, Felix invites diners to his in-house restaurant, Casa Felix, to taste his experimental cooking with fish. As you sit down to eat on the beautiful patio steeped with the scent of jasmine flowers, he and his fiancé Sanra personally introduce you to their ‘gastronomic laboratory’, featuring flavours such as huacatay, a type of Peruvian mint, and cedrón, a lemon scented shrub that grows in their garden.
 
His dishes are inspired from cross-continent cuisines to which he adds his personal creative twists. Classics such as locro, a hearty stew usually made from pork and beef, is revamped using fish, oyster mushrooms and tamarind. Similarly, the popular Argentine dessert, crème caramel is given a colourful twist with coconut, kumquats and a crust of nuts and dates. “The idea is to cook with the freshest ingredients that there are,” he explains. “The kumquats from this menu were brought to us by a friend from his back yard and it fitted perfectly with our concept of seasonal cooking.”
 
Uncommonly for Argentina, Felix grew up in a vegetarian family, and learnt about lesser-known herbs and spices by helping out in his parents’ health food shop. But like all good chefs, his creative edge comes from his travels. After encountering South American cuisine from Andean stews in Bolivia to mole in Mexico he found himself in San Francisco. “I arrived at the mecca of vegan food, Millennium, where I cooked for two years alongside Eric Tucker, considered a guru of vegan cuisine throughout the world,” he says.
 
Like Felix, chef Diego Castro also brought ideas back from the US, this time studying ‘Life Food’, a vegetarian raw cuisine created by chef David Jubb, in New York. “I first encountered Life Food in 2002 and from then my diet and my food interests totally changed,” he recalls.
 
Castro later opened Buenos Aires’ first raw food venue, VerdeLlama (Green Llama) where he prepared nutritious dishes like pizza with a base of sprouted buckwheat and ground flax seed, with olive oil and herbs, topped with pesto, tomatoes, avocados, bell peppers and rawmesan, a vegan alternative to parmesan cheese.
 
Castro was careful to adapt what he had learnt to accommodate the Argentine palate. “Argentine food is a mix of cultures,” he says, “but I was influenced by people’s demand for the flavours they’re accustomed to, especially animal fats, so I took that into account with my use of oils, textures and aromas, finding the best taste without discounting nutrition.”
 
Now returning to Buenos Aires once again after exploring Peru’s nutritious superfoods such as Maca, Lúcuma and Cacao, he is preparing to open a new restaurant and is advising for a chain of organic eateries. Meanwhile Diego Felix’s food has become so popular with North American clients that he and his fiancé have just finished a tour of the US and Canada, cooking in people’s homes in seven cities.
 
The chefs’ new experiences continue to enrich this young movement. “Food is a cultural expression, so you can imagine how much we learnt on our travels,” says Felix. Although the cow shows no signs of shifting from the centre of the country’s protein of choice, Argentine vegetarian cuisine has found a foothold, and seems set to flourish.
 
Casa Felix: Chacarita, Buenos Aires (Thursday to Saturday by reservation only) Tel: +54 (11) 4555 1882
Email: diego@diegofelix.com Web: www.diegofelix.com Kensho: Zárraga 3799, Buenos Aires Tel: +54 (11) 4555 0421 Email: kensho.restaurante@gmail.com Web: www.kensho.com.ar Argentine tourist board: www.turismo.gov.ar
1 Comments | Add a comment

COMMENTS

pedro aramburu
1
patrañas!!! en argentina el bife de chorizo es lo mas rico del mundo. que vayan a comer esta comida snob con 100 u$d en argentina. DELINCUENTES!!

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28 October 2009
By: Kate Stanworth
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