From a family farm in Uruguay to New York’s best restaurants – SBS

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“My grandmother had an Italian background so we did Italian food, as well as Spanish food. I’d help out cooking. Where I feel at home is in the kitchen.”

By

Audrey Bourget

17 Feb 2020 – 2:16 PM  UPDATED 43 MINS AGO

Growing up in Santa Lucia, Uruguay, Ignacio Mattos was surrounded by food. “I lived in a small town. We’d spent a lot of time on our farm; doing our own preserves, making our own wine, making our own charcuterie, butchering the cows. It was pretty real, rural and fun for a kid,” he tells SBS Food.

“My grandmother had an Italian background so we did Italian food, as well as Spanish food. I’d help out cooking. Where I feel at home is in the kitchen.”

He describes Uruguayan food as straightforward, simple and comforting. “And there’s a lot of cooking over fire, cooking meat on the barbecue,” he adds.

However, it was during a period where he was vegan that he really got into cooking. “It made it very difficult for my grandmother to figure out how to cook for me because it’s not something she was familiar with. So I started cooking for myself and I realised it was one of my passions. I loved doing it, and that would be a way to get out the house and travel,” he explains.

“I started cooking for myself and I realised it was one of my passions.”

In Uruguay, he worked for Argentinean barbecue master Francis Mallmann, before he moved to California. At Zuni Café and Chez Panisse he found a strong connection to farmers and their produce.

“It was very refreshing to see how these people were so driven and made their main focus the ingredients. To have these beautiful ingredients, you have to take care of the farmer. That relationship was very empowering and refreshing as a chef,” he says.

When he arrived in New York to open a restaurant with Mallmann, he found his stride: “I fell in love with the city, the energy, the intensity and the diversity also. It’s a very eclectic place, it’s the place I wanted to live in.” 

He now owns three popular restaurants in the city; Estela, Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar.

At Estela, a bistro with one Michelin star, and Flora Bar, Mattos doesn’t stick to one specific cuisine. “For me, it’s important to try to find a New York way of making things, keeping it eclectic and open. It’s not fusion, but it’s different cultures and backgrounds re-articulated in a way that makes sense,” he explains.

Altro Paradiso is an Italian restaurant, loosely inspired by his upbringing. “This is the closest thing to home for me. I apply some of these comfort elements that I learned to do through the cooking of my grandma, but I try not to replicate the things I grew up eating, I try to do it differently,” he says.

“There is this particular ragu my grandma does. I did it one time, but I realised I’d rather keep the memory of it, preserve it and articulate it differently, but not replicate it exactly.”

One dish you’ll definitely see on the menu is his famous beef tartare with pickled elderberries and sunchoke chips. In an interview with Vogue, the chef explained that his team follows a strict process to make the tartare, and adapts the recipe every day, depending on the ingredients they get.

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