Mauro Colagreco on Borders
Mauro Colagreco was born in Argentina to parents of Italian descent. He now runs a restaurant on France’s Costa Azul, in Menton, called Mirazur. Some of his vegetables might come from Italy right down the road. Some of his wines might come from Argentina. On any given night chatter in the restaurant is likely some amalgam of French, English, Spanish, Italian, and probably a few others for good measure.
“French, Italian, Latin American cuisine?” he writes in his new book, titled Mirazur. “Cuisine of terroir? Mediterranean? Of the world? The plate is the space where borders are erased, divisions are forgotten, equilibrium is established: always, conjugates, never ejects. It is that enriching undefinition that mixes and explodes geographical and cultural borders, which broadens the limits of the categories when trying to define their cuisine. In that creative play is freedom.”
Over the last few years talk of borders have been in the news often. Sometimes it’s because of a wall being built to keep migrants from crossing into the United States from Mexico. Other times it relates to refugees reaching Europe in search of safety. It is political jargon, designed to enforce limitations. Colagreco is a chef that defies borders. As his two Michelin star restaurant Mirazur, now 12 years old, has risen to number three on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, he has expanded globally in recent years with Carne, a hamburger chain in Argentina; Grand Coeur, a brasserie and restaurant in Paris; Azur by MC in Beijing; and and Grill 58° in Macau.
He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his experience:
Nicholas Gill: On the first page of text in the book, there is a quote from Thor Heyerdahl about borders existing only in the minds of some people. Being from Argentina of Italian descent and having a restaurant that is essentially on the border of France and Italy, why is it important to lose the notion of borders when you are cooking?
Mauro Colagreco: I believe that if you keep your mind trapped in limits, in a box, if you walk wearing the blinkers of horse tack you will not become aware of the beauty around you. Look, experience, taste, smell, feel, mix each ingredient. Think out of the box. Food is a powerful means to communicate a culture and to express yourself. It’s a very intimate element: we let food in our body, we let it become part of our being. In order to flourish and keep on growing, I tend to believe we have to expand our view, beyond the imagined borders, learning is a never-ending process.
NG: When you first came to France to cook, how was it different from cooking in Argentina?
MC: When I first came to France I was ready to undertake an important rite of passage. I was eager and ready to receive all types of teaching from French cuisine. France represents one of the pillars of gastronomy, so for an Argentinian wannabe cook having the possibility to enter French kitchens is like going to Mecca. I began to learn the basics of cooking in Argentina; in France I started a whole new path that I am still walking on, step by step.
NG: Was assimilating a challenge?
MC: For sure it was and it is a challenge, every day. A challenge, but also an incredible adventure rich of new meetings with good people together with who we expand our Mirazur family. Together we face the everyday challenges!
NG: Now that you have had Mirazur for 12 years, not to mention were working in France for several years before that, do you still feel that your cooking is still a little bit Argentine? I know the ingredients are local, but is there something left of how you cook that you brought with you? Something that won’t ever leave?
MC: Sometimes my recipes represent myself and my journey, yes. It happens that I put together ingredients coming from South America like corn and others coming locally from near Mirazur. However, Mirazur offers a Mediterranean cuisine, enriched by French techniques and of all of my personal experiences. Still, sometimes I go back home and just cook a good asado with my friends. The asado is a cultural element capable of making me travel back home just with his scent, all gathered around a table, cooking, eating, chatting, sharing. Eating is a social act.
We are a unique fruit of our roots. Like a tree growing tall from the earth which is made by millions of roots under the soil, my Argentinian roots shine sometimes. They are there, they are my connection to my home.
NG: When you go back to Argentina, does it still feel like home? How has it changed?
MC: Yes, it does feel like home. Argentina is my native country and every time I am there it is like opening a memory box. It is so good! My family lives still there. It has changed because my life evolved and still keeps on evolving. I consider France my second home-country as my wife and son live in Menton and my restaurant is in France. So yes, it has changed, but now I have two houses where I feel like I’m home.
NG: Do you think one day you will ever close Mirazur and return to Argentina to live?
MC: Tough one! Who knows what the future holds for us? As for now Mirazur is still a young creature, still growing up. We have mountains of ideas fueling our mind and many dishes, flavors, and new experiences to offer.
Header images of Mirazur credit Mariano Caffé and Eduardo Torres.