Serving up Mendoza’s chefs

COCABAMBA  III 041Where there is exquisite wine, there is exquisite food. Mendoza is no exception. The countless restaurants and bodegas in Mendoza serve up mouth-watering dishes, from traditional Argentine cuisine to innovative fusions. As such, the province is a hotspot for burgeoning chefs trying to make their mark on this thriving culinary scene. How do these aspiring chefs master their art? By learning from the best. One of the best names in the business: Aldo Ansaldi.

I had to opportunity to sit down and talk to Aldo about his culinary schools, his personal inspirations, and his achievements. His welcoming, laid-back demeanor is unexpected given his nonstop schedule of teaching, traveling, and operating his two institutions in Mendoza. Aldo Ansaldi is a guru of gastronomy, and his impressive resume is a testament to his 30 years of culinary experience. Within this litany are awards, diplomas, professional expertise garnered in countries from all around the world.

Born in Chile to an Italian family, Aldo decided he wanted to be a chef before he even entered secondary school. “My mom almost killed me when I told her,” he jokes, “my dad wanted me to be an engineer.” Aldo went on to study hospitality and culinary arts in Chile before landing a job as a chef in the Hotel Termas de Cacheuta in Mendoza. The idea of opening a culinary school had always been of interest to him, and he traveled Spain, Switzerland and Peru to observe how other schools operated. Soon after, he opened the Instituto Arrayanes in Patagonia, which was later moved to Mendoza in 2001.

“We opened Arrayanes with a very clear idea: to train chefs. The true culinary schools were either closing or becoming commercialized and it was damaging gastronomy. Why? Because anyone could pay a fee and say ‘I’m going to be a chef’, when in reality they don’t know how to work, to make an effort, to make compromises. You can’t improvise experience – you have to live it.”

Bolivia 2010 018With this philosophy in the foreground, the educational program emphasizes technical hands-on experience above formal instruction. This is especially the case with Sibaritas, a second school that opened one year ago. Located amongst the vineyards and olive trees at bodega Club Tapíz in Maipú, Sibaritas is more a studio than a classroom, allowing students to harvest their own ingredients directly from the gardens and experiment in a dynamic, creative setting. Ten percent of the curriculum is devoted to formal instruction – the other ninety percent is spent in the kitchen. Even more, graduates have the opportunity to participate in an exchange program with other culinary schools in Latin America and Europe.

Furthermore, Sibaritas offers one-day workshops for tourists interested in Argentine gastronomy. During these “Días en la Cocina,” visitors learn to cook up a traditional argentine breakfast and lunch. In between meals, participants explore the vineyard, the vegetable garden, and the olive orchard to see (and taste) the fresh, locally produced ingredients.

Don’t have time for a cooking class? Aldo believes that a visit to the central market (mercado central) is invaluable: “Tourists should seek out places with personality. Yes, going to the bodegas to eat is quite popular, but everything is meticulously organized and prepared. Every time I travel to a different country I always ask where the central market is. I love it because that’s where the natives eat – it’s rustic. That’s where the real culinary wealth can be seen through the culture.”

By Joseph Gibson

Photos by Aldo Ansaldi

For more information on cooking workshops at Sibaritas, visit http://www.sibaritasacademia.com.ar/