At 27 years old and number 26 on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Pedro Bargero is one of the fast rising among chefs cooking in South America today. Now head of the kitchen at Chila, a restaurant located in Puerto Madero, Pedro is one of a group of chefs championing Argentine produce and techniques.
Not only is Bargero exceptionally young to be in charge of so high-end a kitchen, but he’s also relatively new to gastronomy.
He began cooking just seven years ago, before which he says he barely ever cooked (reportedly, he didn’t know how to cook a fried egg at the age of 18). Indeed, he holds very few memories of food from his childhood, besides those of going fishing as a boy, preparing the catch, and cooking it over a fire.
“I used to be a party animal” he says, “and then one day I thought ‘OK, what am I going to do?’”. I wanted to do something with my hands. And then I found food. Cooking changed everything. It changed my life.”
Leek, Yacaratia Wood and Milk make up the chef’s signature dish, which, Pedro tells me, was inspired by the animals and vegetables at Chila’s farm. “I wanted to take the cow – the symbol of Argentine cuisine – and use it in a different way. So we have the milk, which is burnt, and served alongside leek, leek ash, and Yacaratia Wood from Misiones,” Pedro says. “Its a dish without meat” he notes, holding my gaze for a second to underscore the importance of this.
Before I can ask any questions about the increase of vegetarianism in a country so famous for its meat eating, Pedro has already begun talking about about the philosophy behind the venue’s vegetarian menu: cooking with vegetables, Pedro says, is more exciting. “You put sirloin, Wagyu on a plate, that’s it, its easy. But with a vegetable, you have to work harder.”
Pedro’s interest in vegetarian cuisine is part of a larger phenomena of top chefs choosing to experiment with contemporary vegetarian food, and while many guests come to him to experience the best of Argentine meat (cow sweetbreads and egg yolk sauce, dry-aged tenderloin served with wheatgrass foam and Lincoln cheese, duck with beetroot), Pedro ensures that the restaurant “always has one vegetarian dish on the tasting menu”, in order to show people that Argentine cuisine has more to offer than asado.
Indeed, the whole restaurant’s philosophy is focused around regional, seasonal products
from Argentina, a philosophy propounded by Bargero’s former mentor, Soledad Nardelli, who now works full time as an ambassador for Argentine cuisine. When Pedro hands me their current menu (titled ‘Chapter XII – each month there is a new chapter), its accompanied by a map, printed on thick tracing paper, with the ingredients from the tasting menu located in colored lettering around the map: quinoa from Jujuy region, artichoke from Cordoba, Boga, or river fish, from the Paraná river, hazelnuts and raspberries from Rio Negro in Patagonia.
It seems Bargaro is creating patriotic cuisine in its most thoughtful, delicate and playful form, transforming restaurant into theatre, and exploding the assumption that Argentine cuisine is ruled by bife and choripan.
Pedro Bargero and the Chila team have just been awarded the ‘Relais & Chateaux’ award, which seeks to unite the world’s best restaurants and hotels in one portfolio. Definitely worth a visit.