I didn’t expect to have Vanilla cheesecake and dulce de leche, smashed into my face by a well-heeled Argentinean Producer in an elegant art gallery at 1.30am. I took this welcoming gesture as my first clue to always expect the unexpected, in a city like Buenos Aires.
Don’t worry, I was actually laughing through the dripping globs of sweet caramel, sticking to my eyelashes. This has to have been the most entertaining food experience I’ve ever engaged in.
When you think of Argentina, you think of the succulent juicy cuts of Beef sizzling on an Asado; a beautiful dark brown steak, cooked to delicate rosy red perfection. But tonight, on a balmy summers night, there was no beef in sight. No asado. No familiar barbeque smell. There was, however a group of 15 enthusiastic diners ready for an interesting night in store.
I was at the city’s fashionable new dining experience, “Puertas Cerradas”, Closed Door Dining. A relatively new concept developed in the past few years, Closed Door Dining well and truly reflects a city that thinks beyond the conservative norm of what Argentines often appear to be. Passionate foodies and innovative gastronomes, gather a small group of people in a different location every week, and prepare a meal to amaze, provoke, and stimulate the senses.Budding chefs can showcase their culinary skills without the financial strain of trying to open their own restaurant. It’s also simply a wonderful way to gather a group of individuals of all different professions and nationalities, to share, meet, converse and get to know each other through a culinary experience. Locations depend on where the Chef of the night, is able to take over. It can be anywhere from a trendy high ceilinged city loft, to a rustic wine cellar, or in this case, a modern art gallery in trendy, Palermo.
I walked in on time at 9pm, (which means early in Argentinean standards) to see a young, tall and handsome Max Paarlberg, dressed in a rainbow colored chef’s jacket, and a tall white chef’s hat, making an impression behind a small makeshift kitchen counter, as he sliced shiny salmon chunks into delicate slathers of sashimi. Max has been doing these events, spurred by his passion to share his inventive culinary creations with spirited groups of portenos. He shares his insight on life, art, love and culture as he presents every dish. Inspired by the artwork whose thematic idea was to break the boundaries of the traditional theme, Max decided to take this idea and reflect it in his food for the night, which was to go beyond the boundaries of a Plate.
As a mixed crowd of Argentine professionals, combined with a handful of international visitors, took their seats, the spectacle began, in true South American tardy fashion. There were six courses to be served. Max proved you didn’t need a plate to enjoy a delicious meal. A first course of Chinese Prawn toast was served on a cassette case. Yes, everyone had an individual cassette of an old school album. Mine was Julio Iglesias, whereby lay a mouthful of sweet and sour richness.
Last but not least, Desert. Everyone was given transparent plastic gloves. We were asked to put the palms of our hands facing up side by side. Next thing you know, a creamy vanilla cheesecake is being squirted out of a plastic cone into our palms. On top of that, a large plastic injection is squirting out gooey dulce de leche, and to top it all off, fresh sliced bananas. At this point, 15 smiling diners, filled with copious amounts of wine, ballooned the room with laughter as everyone started to lick the desert from their hands. Needless to say, it all got a little out of hand and next thing you know, the cheesecake was being covered all over my face, and I too, was much enjoying, smearing another pour souls face with the sweet concoction. My stomach was in pain from laughing so much.
By venturing beyond the formalities of a normal dinner, by cutting any boundaries and tensions between strangers, this night has become one of my most memorable dining experiences to date. Where friends are made not just by what we eat, but how we eat and the spirit in which we eat. Argentina proved that food not only nourishes the stomach, but nourishes the soul.