These discoveries of fresh produce are relatively new. Every time I head back to Argentina, about twice a year, I unearth 10 to 15 products I haven’t seen before. And that is why I decided to put together an annual nomad food and wine festival called Comilona, which is the Argentine word for ‘feast’: to endorse products you and I wouldn’t normally associate with Argentina.
"Every time I head back to Argentina, I unearth 10 to 15 products I haven’t seen before. And that is why I decided to put together an annual nomad food festival: to endorse products you and I wouldn’t normally associate with Argentina."
I left home in 1998. I have lived almost half of my life abroad. I wanted to reconnect with the food, produce and farmers of my country. I also realised that there were people like me, across Europe and all over. So, I decided to build this platform where nomadic, as well as Argentina-based cooks, critics, sommeliers and winemakers can begin a journey to build a distinct identity. The event is a two-way road for us as professionals, learning alongside the public as well. Clearly, this is only the second year but there’s no limit to where we can go.
Our inaugural feast was held in London last year. We conducted concurrent events in two restaurants over four days, with the concept focused on traditional and modern methods of cooking seen in Buenos Aires — a melting pot of different cultures. That was a bit of a stretch, handling eight sessions. Thus, for this year, we learnt from that experience and made things better.
Centred around 10 Argentine products, including a milder sort of paprika; the famous dried tea leaves of yerba mate; flour from the seedpods of the ‘algarrobo blanco’ (white carob tree); and premium beef, our invited guest chefs whipped up five-course dinners and wine-pairing menus for the nights of 26 to 28 October 2016. We wanted a cosier setting and Singapore’s Bochinche was perfect for hosting a select number of 35 patrons. Still, on the last day, we bumped up the seats to accommodate 40 guests, simply due to high demand.
The challenge wasn’t cooking. The real test was preparation and being logistically ready. First, we needed to align the already packed schedules of various chefs. We are thankful that the festival has been popular from the start. Many wanted to play a part. Hernan Luchetti, chef de cuisine of El Celler de Can Roca, as well as Agustina de Alba, Argentina’s top sommelier, took time off to join us. The team of culinary talents participated in the dinner collaborations at their own expense.
True Argentines are loud and like to talk but, above all, they really love to spend time together. This is best witnessed when Argentines gather for an asado, which is essentially a barbeque. Around the fire, we gather and, while we wait for the meat to cook, card games are played and drinks are consumed. In many asados, black puddings are served first and, after that, we dig into some ribs and flanks. Everything is shared. And that’s part of the beauty and spirit of the group at this year’s Comilona.