What is “good”?

It was easy to dismiss Córdoba, Argentina as boring and uneventful. Even easy to say the food sucked and was all the same. In many ways both of these statements are true. After the never ending parade of parties, museums, concerts, bars and tours of Buenos Aires it’s not a surprise that the second largest city of Argentina is a little sleepy. Being a college town, the bars and food are kept pretty simple and affordable. And as BsAs is the capital darling of the country they get all the good stuff and don’t leave much left for the rest of the very large and diverse country, save for Mendoza which is fueled by foreign investors.

But as I’ve written before, even though Buenos Aires had variety that doesn’t mean it was “good”. This left me wondering exactly what it was that I was looking for in this quest to find the best of anything. I realized I hadn’t even defined what it was I was looking for other than “good” which is pretty ambiguous undoubtedly setting myself up for disappointment in the future.

Within days of landing in Cordoba I was at a chef’s mother’s house with a handful of the tramily. Eating, drinking and singing along to a guitar set a good pace for the city and some expectations for the month ahead. Then a few days later, after walking down the same street full of the same lomito restaurants lined up one after the other, I quickly got bored. The mercado offered up the freshest options at the best prices, but still in the limited variety of goods I saw in Buenos Aires. I felt uninspired to cook for perhaps the longest period ever.

You would think that after 5 weeks in a city with no more than a half dozen “good” restaurants, no selection of ingredients to speak of and a clientele largely on a limited budget that I would be leaving in a hurry with Córdoba in the dust. Yet as I write this on a flight to Santiago and then on to Lima I realize that I should have defined “good” much sooner. Just as I learned in Buenos Aires that I needed to get out of my little bubble and meet new people, I learned that adjusting my expectations to the place and enjoying the best they have to offer for what it is adds up to a great experience.

In just five short weeks I racked up quite a few wonderful memories.

A horseback ride in the sierras where the smell of pine reminded me of home and the slice of salami cut off with a well worn pocket knife transported me my childhood- standing on a hilltop with my dad and grandfather as we took a break from tracking down deer.

A night of cooking alongside Luciano, the viking chef of Argentina, in his soon to open new restaurant Nordico. He’s just the right amount of wild and crazy, yet continued to remind me to relax as we roasted whole animals in the biggest wood oven I’ve seen.

Dinner at the house of Ale, with his friend Franco who happens to be a lead cook at one of the nicest restaurants in town was lucky coincidence. We followed it up with another dinner and asado and I was reminded how great food is at crossing borders and acting as the conduit for building bonds.

A week in Mendoza where I rediscovered my lost love for wine. Surrounded by six of my new tramily, I slipped right into wine tasting mode as they all played along swirling and sniffing while I took advantage of the time to offer unrequested guidance as a way to bring years of past wine exploration back to the present.

Driving 90 minutes each way to eat at Siete Fuegos, a restaurant owned and overseen by a chef that I have studied for years. The view that unfolded when we stepped into the dining room literally took my breath away and brought a peacefulness and satisfaction to me I hadn’t known in quite a while.

Bringing 60 “old” and new friends together over an asado brought a smile to my face and further anchored my love for entertaining over food. Especially when it doesn’t feel like work.

A seven course lunch at El Papagayo proved that you can be a bright star in an otherwise drab food city. Especially in a space so small that I could almost stretch far enough to touch both walls.

Wrapping up the trip with a dinner at Hestia, a “restaurante secrete” that is only open by invitation from the owners as it is in the living room of their home. The chef, Irene, is a Bostonian ex-pat putting her Greek and American heritage to work on Córdobese ingredients. Thanks to her husband and host Rodrigo for the picture!

Córdoba wasn’t just good, it was great in many ways. It set the tone for me to realize that I am living in these cities as I move around for the year instead of just visiting. Rather than expecting a never ending string of amazingness, this is real life and has it’s ups and downs. The beauty of which is finding pleasure in the journey and learning through each step of the way.

As for journeys, this next month should prove to be an interesting one food wise with plans to visit three of the top restaurants in the world and a half dozen markets to explore. I’ve already set up a connection to learn from a local chef doing Japanese and Peruvian fusion as well as a long list of street food spots to dig up as I learn my way through a new city. Thankfully I have Córdoba to remind me to keep an eye out for all of the wins, both large and small. ¡Nuevos sabores!

2018-03-07T13:22:11+00:00 March 7th, 2018|
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