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It’s a city with meat at its heart, but with European influences abounding, the scene is forever changing and evolving, as Buenos Aires-born chef Fernando, the man behind London’s Sucre, knows only too well
The Argentinian capital wears its influences on its architectural and culinary sleeves. The impact of colonial Europe is easily identifiable in the bricks and mortar – from French art nouveau to neoclassical Italian – but also on the menus, full of dishes with heritage in Basque or southern Italy, cooked by people whose ancestors brought them over.
Yet after centuries of European influence, Buenos Aires cuts its own path in art, cuisine and wine. Each neighbourhood is distinct, and it finds space for nature as well – we’re not talking an elegant park with a few trees: there are 865 acres of Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur, attracting tourists of the feathered kind too, with more than 200 migratory birds paying a visit every year.
With 15.6 million non-feathered souls, however, this city didn’t just spring up. The encouragement of mass immigration in the 1800s has shaped it, making it the multi- cultural, diverse and forever evolving place it is today.
‘Buenos Aires is made so special by the country and the people,’ explains Fernando Trocca, who established Sucre in Buenos Aires more than 20 years before launching its equally brilliant London sibling.
‘And when I say the people, I mean the best thing about Argentina is the mix of people. The European influence on the country and the city, and the Spanish and Italian immigrants who came to Argentina who had a huge influence on the culture.’
Europe has always played a role in BA life. The Spanish founded it first in the 16th century, but later abandoned it, only for the city to be founded a second time 40 years later – also by a Spaniard – in 1580. Italian heritage also runs strong across the city. ‘My grandmother was born in Argentina, but her family were from Italy,’ explains Fernando. ‘Every Sunday, in the Italian tradition, she would make fresh, handmade pasta for the family. She would cook a whole lot of different cuisines, but her favourite to cook was Italian.
‘My earliest memories of Buenos Aires would probably be at my grandmother’s house,’ he continues. ‘My mother passed away when I was 11 years old, so I would spend a lot of time with the rest of the family. We would go to school around the corner from my grandmother’s house, and spent every day there for maybe ten years. For me, that’s my most important memory of the city.
‘And it was definitely all about my grandmother’s cooking,’ he says, acknowledging his greatest influence. ‘I grew up watching her cook. We had lunch and dinner at her house every single day. She’d create menus for my brother and me for the following day – starter, main course and dessert – so we always knew what we were having.
‘Her signature dishes were things like risotto osso bucco, a Milanese with mashed potato, and veal liver with caramelised onions. She also made a fantastic crème caramel with dulce de leche. Her house was in San Telmo, the old town within the city. It had so many colonial buildings, antique shops and tango bars. It’s changed a huge amount over the years – it’s now very touristy.’
It was enough to lead Fernando in a culinary direction. ‘My grandmother’s influence was heavy on me,’ he admits. ‘At 18, I moved to Bariloche, Río Negro, to study cooking at a culinary school.
‘It was the beginning of my path, and I learnt my craft within the kitchens of Argentine greats: Paul Azema, Francis Mallmann and Gato Dumas. When I was 22, I took over my first restaurant, Llers, which ended up being a great success. It gave me the confidence and the skills in 2001 to open our first Sucre location, on Mariscal Antonio José, in the heart of the city.’
Today, Fernando lives just outside the city in Vicente López. ‘My house has a little garden and it’s within a very small, picturesque neighbourhood,’ he says. ‘It has a similar vibe to Hampstead or Belsize Park in London.’
But the city as a whole is a different place from the one in which he grew up. ‘It’s changed, but I believe it’s changed for the better,’ he says. ‘Within the last ten to 15 years, we’ve seen a lot of new places – not only restaurants. The city is much better now. I mean, like many cities, it’s completely different than it was 20 years ago. The food scene has been shaped by the various political, social and cultural crises we’ve been through – throughout history.
‘There has only just been a slow climb in restaurants opening; simple, small places with young chefs that didn’t have enough money to open a big place or a big restaurant. There’s an increase of new restaurants with various types of cuisine – Asian, French, Japanese, Mexican.’
Nonetheless, some things always remain the same. ‘I mean, you have to have a barbecue,’ he admits. ‘Obviously, Argentinian chefs know how to grill. We love meat and we have amazing steaks in restaurants within Buenos Aires thanks to the incredible producers that we have within the country.
‘It’s a cuisine that’s always
been tied to Argentina – which
is why we have an exceptional
number of steak houses,’
continues Fernando. ‘There are
two types: your classic, old
restaurants that have been in
the city for a number of years,
and they have meat at their
heart; but now we’re also
starting to see the emergence
of new steak houses that
take care with lots of other ingredients and menu options, so they’re finding new ways
to cook with vegetables and fish.
'If you’re primarily looking for steak, go to Don Julio – it’s the best steak house in Buenos Aires because of the way it sources its meat and matures it in house. Another great place to eat meat is El Pobre Luis, which is a no-nonsense local institution.’
And beyond the steak? ‘I would go to Anafe for a relaxed dinner. Their menu is full of small and large plates that put the emphasis on fresh ingredients. I’d choose El Preferido for a special event, with Guido Tassi and Martín Lukesch running their kitchen expertly. Finally, I would visit Mostrador Santa Teresita – it’s actually our place, but it’s new and it’s on the river, making for a beautiful setting, and we do a buffet of dishes and à la carte plates to order over communal tables.’
As with any city, knowing the
best neighbourhoods to visit is
key, especially since there are
48 barrios or districts to choose
from here. ‘Definitely go to
Palermo [the largest], and Villa
Crespo,’ he says. ‘Those are
new and upcoming areas.
Palermo is like our Soho in
essence, but now it’s very
expensive. Any young chefs
trying to open a restaurant
are moving away from Palermo to the less expensive neighbourhoods, but there are some amazing restaurants in Palermo, so you still have to visit – for instance, A Nos Amours, which is a French bistro in the less touristy part.
‘Villa Crespo is very close
to Palermo, but it’s the newer,
more exciting area,’ he
explains. ‘San Telmo is a
must-visit too – it’s the old
part of Buenos Aires. You’ll
find a lot of vintage places
and it’s a stunning part of
the city. Then there’s Olivos,
if you’re looking to explore
a modern district.’
Perhaps his best advice is the same as so many people would give when it comes to exploring their city. ‘Walk everywhere,’ he insists. ‘You can see parts of the place on foot that you can’t see any other way. It’s a beautiful city to walk around.
‘Try all the food: try the blood sausage, the breaded steak, the empanadas... Try as much as you can. Talk to the local people,’ he continues. ‘Go to the river and, even better, make sure you take a trip to the Tigre; it’s the delta and it’s truly beautiful.
‘Buenos Aires is my city, my place,’ he concludes. ‘It is where my memories are and, despite the changes, the city still thrives.’
This was one of the very
first boutique hotels to
open in the area. It’s warm
and inviting, with a beautiful
interior set to a backdrop
of one of Buenos Aires’ most beautiful
reach of the city centre.
Some of the city’s best
restaurants are close at hand.
It is, without a doubt, the best steak restaurant in Buenos Aires. It’s not just the food that’s great here – the ambience is wonderful and the service is even better.
El Preferido De Palermo
El Preferido is an institution, now in the very capable hands of chef and master butcher Guido Tassi. It was recently renovated, and serves traditional porteña (Buenos Aires) food, using only the best produce Guido can find on the market and organic produce from their garden. 00 54 11 4774 6585
Na Num, Palermo
It’s the best Korean food in town, cooked by Marina Lis Ra. Her parents are Korean, so she knows the dishes and the flavours inside out. It also helps that she is an excellent cook. Sometimes it’s the simple things done well that make the finest dining. 00 54 11 2173 5031
A humble pop-up from two young chefs that has found a permanent home due to its success with delicious sharing plates.
Words by Alex Mead
This interview was taken from the April 2022 issue of Food and Travel Magazine. To subscribe today, click here.
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