With a constellation of Michelin stars under his belt, a string of restaurants around the world, including Spago in Beverly Hills, and as the man responsible for feeding Oscars winners (and losers) at the annual gala dinner for two decades, Wolfgang Puck’s CV has chartered many corners of the world. Except South America, until now. In January, the 69-year-old Austrian chef visited Argentina and Uruguay for the very first time. Invited by his Argentine friend Francis Mallmann to host Spago for two dinner dates at Bodega Garzón and Restaurante Garzón in Uruguay, Puck shares his South American sensorial experience with New Worlder.
Before I landed on in Buenos Aires, Alex [Resnik, his Argentine senior operations partner] had been telling me about Argentina’s steak restaurants. The first place we went to was butcher shop Corte. We had the most amazing blood sausage as well as some dry-aged beef. It was very good, we ate all meat and I knew that I’d finally arrived in Argentina because of the amount of beef and bread we were eating, just like the gauchos!
I grew up in the countryside in Austria and we had blood sausage come the end of November, December when it got cold. We made our own at home as we had two pigs and my father would get a butcher to come. One blood sausage had rice, onion and parsley inside and that reminded me of growing up. I didn’t like it so much when I was a kid but I learned to like it.
I also loved the dry-aged beef, as it wasn’t fatty like in the U.S. This had great texture and a little bite to it; the flavor was great. One of the better pieces of beef I’ve had. Then there were sweetbreads. I’ve had sweetbreads many different ways – it was one of our specialties in L’Oustau de Baumanière in France – but this one at Corte was juicy, rich tasting, and kept its consistency. I put on a little salt and lemon juice and that was it. The texture was amazing, cooked two hours sous vide, then on the grill.
I was really impressed with Buenos Aires, its restaurants and bars, so I tried a lot of gastronomy in just two days! I tried the house vermouth and gin from Florería Atlántico, as they make it themselves, and some Patagonian toothfish, flaky and tasty, at Happening.
I loved Buenos Aires as it is so green: so many palm trees and wide open spaces, and beautiful buildings. Some streets look like Paris. I was very surprised by how clean it is. It looked like it is doing well. I had a look inside the Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt, which was beautiful, and I stayed at the Faena, a more modern hotel, so it was a great combination.
As for Uruguay, I came to Punta del Este without seeing Punta del Este as it has been raining so much! In my mind I thought it would be warm 90 degrees but it was suddenly 64 degrees. I brought pajamas with me to sleep on the plane, but I slept in them that night!
Alex has always told me you’ll smell the charcoal grills in Buenos Aires, and he was right. It smelled like everyone is cooking on open fires. It is amazing, as you can really smell it in the city.
I didn’t have much chance to walk around, but I saw these 500-year-old trees near the Recoleta cemetery with their flowers.
When we decided to come and cook in Uruguay, we decided to use the local products instead of bringing in products. Both Argentina and Uruguay are agricultural countries with a lot of meat, so we decided to use whatever we found. And it wasn’t hard; I was very pleased with the quality. It’s good to go local as it teaches me something new. If I bring everything to shrink wrap or sous vide, it’s boring. I like to go to local markets and see what is going on.
At the hotel I call ‘Château Mallmann’ in Garzón [Casa Ana], it’s so quiet, you can’t hear anything. I woke up at 4am and had no idea where I was. It was so peaceful. In cities, you hear sirens and cars, and being in Garzón made me think of growing up in in Austria, when you can hear a car coming from two kilometers away. It’s very peaceful.
Images courtesy of Bodega Garzón.