The dream of the chef from La Pampa

Mariano Braga: «Argentina is huge, there’s more than Baires, but critics don’t visit the province and everything gets complicated»

05-01-2017
Flo and Mariano Braga, wife and husband, patrons a

Flo and Mariano Braga, wife and husband, patrons at restaurant Pampa Roja in Santa Rosa, the capital of La Pampa province in Patagonia

Episode number five

After reading the first episodes of this travel diary, a restaurateur wrote and confirmed that, unfortunately, Argentina is distant even in South America. His name is Mariano Braga, he’s only thirty as pointed out on the website of his restaurant, named Pampa Roja, Red Pampa, under the photo with his sweetheart: «Flor. Mariano. 30 años. 16 años juntos. 1 hijo. Nosotros somos esto». A total of sixty years, together since they were 14, a son called Mateo.

The restaurant is in Santa Rosa, almost 100 thousand inhabitants, capital of La Pampa province in Patagonia. The two of them have built something magnificent, surfing the web is enough to grasp it, even when you consider that La Pampa is as large as half of Italy and has some 318 thousand inhabitants. I copy from a Facebook post written on the 30th December: «2016 was a rough year for the restaurant. It was an agitated year. It was a year of great growth, of opportunity, acknowledgements. So as to strengthen the relationship with locals and, at the same time, acquire more visitors from far away».

This is how they celebrate a praising letter from German Martitegui of Tegui in Buenos Aires or Wine Spectator admiring their wine list or the first place for their food on Tripadvisor. But this is not enough, it cannot be enough when you’re so cut off. Mariano wrote to me: «Thank you for writing about restaurants in Buenos Aires, it’s an honour to be reviewed on the Identità website. When I read that “Argentina is dreaming of a Michelin guide”, I decided to write and thank you for having perfectly pictured the dining scene in my country, and most of all how hard it is for a restaurant that’s far away from the capital to be considered in the 50 Best list of Latin America or in the Michelin Guide should there ever be one here too.

«We’re ambitious, we’d like to become an icon in Argentina. We have books full of notes, we recall every moment at Eleven Madison in New York or the flavour of the rice we had at Osteria Francescana, we are celebrated for our wine in the U.S. or in the U.K. but in fact no critic has ever visited us. They just ask us to send them an email with our menu and our wine list, and then they judge accordingly.

«Distance – we’re 600 km from Buenos Aires -, is a big problem. Plus, it needs to be said, the critics’ industry over here is very, very small. I am a wine journalist myself and our world is much different from that of North America or Europe. Local journalists never pay the bill. Never. And putting a few unknown bloggers aside, whom you don’t know, you never happen to see an anonymous critic.

«And if you look at the 50 Best Latin America for 2016 you’ll notice that of the eight voted places, not considering one in Mendoza, owned by super famous star-chef Francis Mallmann, the other seven are in Baires. But I don’t believe the best Argentina has to offer is concentrated in the capital. We’re a huge nation and I believe we have many very interesting places far away, for instance in Bariloche, Mar del Plata, or even in Mendoza and in many more places. The point is critics never leave Buenos Aires and we find it hard to stand out and make people understand we’re also worthy».

To think that in Italy there are many excellent places in the province suffering from the same problem, and we’re speaking of a few dozen kilometres, or little more.

5. To be continued Here are episodes one, two, three and four.


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