Until recently, its been surprisingly tricky to find good Latin food in Buenos Aires. The city is primarily made up of European immigrants and variations on Italian and Spanish cuisine are dominant, alongside of course, the more traditional Argentine fare of fiery asados, smoked meats from the south and empanadas from the north.
Peru is the only fellow South American country with a good food foothold here, with bastions such as a branch of the famous Astrid y Gaston or the lush Osaka. Mexican food, while at times decent, is generally served with an emphasis on enthusiasm rather than quality, making for a fun night out but not a truly delicious one.
What has been lacking is a little bit of excitement, a playful flair with the colors, spices, chilies, and fruit that the continent has to offer. Two relatively recent offerings have changed all that, ILatina from Colombian brothers Santiago and Camilo Macias (above) and Aipim from Naiara Calviño (left).
ILatina opened midway through 2012 and has sent tasty Colombian-Caribbean ripples throughout Buenos Aires. Few are the visitors to this bright, colorful yet classy closed-door restaurant that haven’t left charmed by the brothers, smitten by Santiago’s deft blend of sweet fruit and savory flavors and, I suspect, wandering about the possibility of a visit to Colombia. Their menu, which changes every fortnight, has quickly become one of the unmisseable dining features of the city.
Aipim is another new face of 2012 and from a small, simple space in Palermo, Calviño has started lighting Latin firecrackers under taste buds. After travels around the region, particularly Peru, and a year in Brazil, she came back to open her first restaurant, full of exotic ideas and flavors. Not content with rave reviews, she has recently changed up, moving her restaurant to behind closed doors in a house in Villa Crespo.
TLK sat down with the two chefs to talk food.
TLK: How would you describe your style in the kitchen?
Naiara Calviño (NC): I cook what I love to eat, and I do love to eat. In creating my menus I am inspired by things I learned and tasted on my travels and of course from my collection of cookbooks from around the world.
Santiago Macias (SM): Here in Ilatina the cooking style is simple, fire-based, lots of slow cooking, nothing too technological. I like using the abundance of fruit present in the Colombian-Caribbean cuisine and the mix of sweet and savory so common back home.
TLK: What would you say is your most popular dish here?
NC: A kind of moqueca (a Brazilian seafood soup) with octopus.
SM: Everybody loves our various versions of ceviches, especially the pato encevichado, duck cooked ceviche style.
TLK: Could you name a favorite ingredient?
NC: I love chilies from Peru and Brazil, and cilantro.
SM: Achiote, a powdered spice made from the seeds of the fruit of the same name. It is like a Colombian version of saffron and gives a slightly toasty, nutty flavor to dishes; great with fish or in salsas.
TLK: A tip in the kitchen?
NC: I love cooking with chili, but recommend starting without the seeds, maybe even rinsing the chilies to cut back on their heat. This way you can really bring out the flavor of each chili and then adjust the heat as required.
SM: To make a perfect ceviche, it is crucial to do everything in the moment, squeezing the limes, cutting the fish and onions, everything.
TLK: A person and a cookbook that inspires?
NC: Fergus Henderson and his book, The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. I want to include more of his style of using everything in the kitchen.
SM: Person, Gaston Acurio, for his pioneering advocacy work for Peruvian cuisine. A book, it’s not a cookbook, but I love Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.
TLK: What is your best food memory?
NC: Grilled pork, boiled sweet potatoes, potato and tomato and mint in Arequipa’s central market in Peru – so simple and so delicious.
SM: A peanut soup in Bolivia!
TLK: What is in the pipeline for 2013?
NC: The change from restaurant to closed-door dining; I love the freedom that it gives me to cook all the crazy things I want to!
SM: I want to take Colombian and ILatina’s food to more people, here and abroad. (In March Santiago will be cooking for the folk at the Mid-Atlantic Wine and Food Festival in Delaware; if in the area, don’t miss out.)
Want to get a taste of what's cooking in Buenos Aires? Head into the kitchen.