In a country renowned for its wine and beef, some passionate gourmands are seeking to expand perceptions of their culinary repertoire. Gonzalo Aramburu is one of them. He introduces guests at his eponymous two-Michelin starred restaurant in Buenos Aires to an ever-wider palette of local flavors.
ON THE BURNING SIDEWALKS OF BUENOS AIRES AT THE HEIGHT OF SUMMER, we have come to meet Gonzalo Aramburu. The chef strolls through Recoleta, the upscale neighborhood that’s home to his restaurant–and where he also lives–in a simple T-shirt and jeans, exuding the casual attitude typical of the city: chic, yet lively and dynamic. Chef Aramburu was not born to a family of gourmands. His father is a lawyer, and he lost his mother–a teacher–when he was just nine. He began cooking for fun, and since he was not academically inclined, he followed his passion. “I got my first work placement at the La Bourgogne restaurant at Hôtel Alvear with Jean-Paul Bondoux [current chef of the Relais & Châteaux restaurant, La Bourgogne, in Uruguay]. I didn’t work directly with him, since I was assigned to room service, but I understood that I had found my calling,” he says.
He then pursued a variety of experiences to complete his training: first in Miami, then Paris; next in San Sebastián, Spain, with Martín Berasategui; then back to the United States, in New York City, with Daniel Boulud; and in Chicago with Charlie Trotter. “You can find Argentinian chefs–some young, some not-so-young–in the kitchens of the world’s greatest restaurants,” he says. “Personally, I decided to come back to reside in Buenos Aires. This is where I have my life, my family.” He opened his first restaurant in 2007, not necessarily where he wanted to, but where he could: in Buenos Aires’ Constitución neighborhood, near the train station of the same name. He remained there for ten years, perfecting his craft, his vision of gourmet cuisine, but, as the years went by, the area became destitute. It was time to find a new home where his concept could truly flourish.
Today, Recoleta is where you’ll find the plushest hotels of the city, along with elegant boutiques, tourists who come to visit the famous cemetery (where Eva Perón is buried), and residents who clearly see no need to leave the area except to travel to their second homes. While in the summer there are fewer locals at Chef Aramburu’s restaurant, yielding to foreigners in search of a welcoming atmosphere, they remain loyal customers. Among them is clearly where he feels most relaxed: here is the park where he brings his daughter to play; there, the path his dog-walker often takes with the chef’s own pets. On the corner, the flower-seller who arranges his bouquets; a little farther on, a trendy café where he discreetly points out an aged gentleman, elegantly dressed in a suit, who he says is an eminent journalist.
The chef might be well-known in his neighborhood, but he’s not quite a national icon just yet, despite holding the 36th place in the 2022 listing of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and winning. “Chefs in Argentina are not yet celebrities, and are even less well-known outside the country. We barely have the time to take care of our businesses, so we certainly don’t have time for promotion. With the problems of inflation, political upheavals, and continually changing regulations, it is difficult to build anything here.” He opened his bistro–BIS–in early 2018, on Pasaje del Correo in Buenos Aires, an alley that emerges onto a bustling thoroughfare. It is a simple spot for regulars to enjoy salads, croquettes, hamburgers and grilled meat. But shortly afterwards, he opened a gourmet restaurant in the space opposite, originally a warehouse. It was here, in 2022, that a certain emblem appeared next to the door–that of Relais & Châteaux. Chef Gonzalo Aramburu is more than a little proud of the accomplishment: “When I began to cook at the age of 20, I remember leafing through a Relais & Châteaux guide to see where I could apply for a work placement,” he says. “To be a part of that family today is a dream come true.”
Left: The magic of Aramburu in full flow.
Right: Deer and watermelon tartare.
We step through the door and are immediately immersed in the world of Gonzalo Aramburu, completely cut off from the commotion of the street. The room is dimly lit, tables generously spaced apart, and guests’ eyes riveted on the sweeping view of the kitchen. That is where all attention is turned: to the precise movements and intense concentration of the chef’s team. The understated decor, the lighting, the way the tables are set: every aspect contributes to a culinary voyage of 16 or 18 courses–according to the season, revealing the connection between nature and cuisine–with products exclusively sourced in Argentina.
That is exactly what defines the gastronomy of Chef Aramburu: it is the showcase of a little-known territory, an approach born of necessity and a feat which has become an achievement on a daily basis. “When I opened five years ago, I could import anything I wanted. The economic crisis made that impossible,” he says. “That is how I learned to work with local products. They are not easy to find, but there are many farmers doing extraordinary things in our region. Our wines and our beef are just the gateway to our full culinary identity. Meat is so sought-after that no one pays any attention to our seafood. Most of our shrimp and scampi are shipped off to Japan or Europe. There is excellent fish
in Patagonia, near Ushuaia, but it is sold abroad because that’s a more lucrative business. High-quality products are sent away, and we struggle every day to secure them.”
And so the gastronomy of Aramburu reflects the chef’s personal journey: its identity forged from his past experiences and adventures, his travels, the influences of his masters, and–at its core–the quality of the best Argentinian produce imaginable. Each dish reveals an exquisite attention to detail. Many were also conceptualized to harmonize with tableware that Antonella Meloni, an Italian designer living in the city, creates specially for him: exquisite, tactile ceramic interpretations of a pebble or a branch, with textures and shapes inspired by the natural world. “Shortly before we opened, a friend had recommended her work to me and I visited her workshop. I had never seen anything like it,” says Gonzalo Aramburu. “She perceives nature in the same way that I do. I simply provide her with photos of textures and colors that I find along my travels: the cracked earth of Patagonia, the pattern of a dry riverbed, and so on.”
Left: Pez limon fish, red cabbage, hibiscus, yellow pepper and herb oil.
On every table emerges a landscape, a work of art. An oyster in sabayon sauce poised on a ceramic shell. A magnificent surf-and-turf: fish and beetroot in dazzling colors; zucchini flower fritters to gather from a bed of blossoms; a splendid venison tartare to wrap in a sheet of shiso and bite into like finger food; delicate Patagonian shrimp skewers, served with a refreshingly acidic juice to sip from what looks like a stone–but is actually a container designed by Antonella. Gonzalo Aramburu is firmly immersed in his life and in his home city, feeling no need to search any further or to open other restaurants elsewhere–even though he has received a number of proposals. Instead, he pours all of his energy into his existing venues and his local community.
Next on the agenda is a plan to operate more sustainably, more regeneratively, in perfect harmony with the planet: first, he’s considering how to recuperate rainwater and filter it for use at his restaurants; after that, he’s planning to plant a vegetable patch on the rooftops of the buildings along the alleyway, aiming to cultivate as much as he can on site. Both ideas are typical of an innovative spirit that reveals just why he is at the forefront of a revolution in Argentinian cuisine and an inspiration to others: “We are working on a comprehensive plan to develop our environmental responsibility. It is necessary to address the subject–or at least to try.”