The Expat: Anthony Vasquez

From: Arequipa, Peru
Lives: Barrio Norte
Education: Cordon Bleu Lima
Profession: Executive chef at La Mar Cebichería Buenos Aires
Book: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
Film: Interstellar
Can’t live without: My grandfather’s ring

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Given that chef Anthony Vasquez was secure in the safety net of La Mar Cebichería in Lima, Peru, after ranking 15 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2014, he was understandably reluctant to up sticks and open a sister branch in Buenos Aires. A gentle nudge from boss Gastón Acurio led him to pastures new at the start of 2015 and after hitting the ground running, La Mar Buenos Aires opened two weeks ago.

Anthony says: “Although my girlfriend of 10 years is Argentine and moved to Peru when she was six, I had never been to Argentina until 2014 when I undertook four research trips. Gastón [Acurio] was planning to open a new restaurant in Buenos Aires but he needed to ensure it would be a viable project.

“And it wasn’t until I got here that I actually found out I had relatives in Argentina – great-uncles and aunts who had their families here. I never knew that before.

“During those first few visits I checked out all the markets such as China Town and Mercado Central to meet producers and see what was available, then reported back to Gastón. And although the core ingredients that are available are different in comparison with Peru, we went for it.”

Pastures new
Although Anthony set up his new base in January, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Having worked at La Mar San Francisco in the US for a while, and given that he was comfortable back home in Peru, he wasn’t that keen to move again.

“I was in Madrid working on a menu there when I met up with Gastón who said he wanted me to launch a new venture in Buenos Aires. I told him I wasn’t very sure and he said, ‘don’t worry about it, we’ll talk about it properly tomorrow.’ Of course, we never met up the following day and a few months later I was undertaking those research trips!

“One day, during my third visit, I had a terrible time. Everyone was complaining about anything and everything, about politics, transport, inflation and I couldn’t stand it anymore. It made me feel like I couldn’t be here. When I left, I told the taxi driver I’d give him 700 pesos to take me to the airport as long as he didn’t talk to me! I returned to Lima, thinking I couldn’t come back to Buenos Aires.

“In Peru, we hear a lot of things about Argentina. We hear about the president and inflation and the fact that there’s a crisis. But when I moved here, it was a very different picture. People are well-dressed, they’re cultured, they go out to the theatre or for dinner frequently, and hang out all afternoon in a café reading a book or simply chatting with friends. Peruvians don’t go out to chat with their mates over a coffee, not like Argentines do, who have a lot to say about most subjects from politics to music.

“So far it’s been a hell of year! I arrived at the start of January and not long after I bust my ankle and had to wear a foot brace for a few months. Then, the week before La Mar was due to open in March, my father passed away and I returned to Lima for his funeral. Three days later I was back in Buenos Aires and I hit the ground running – and the restaurant opened two weeks ago.”

Kitchen synced
For the time being, much of Anthony’s routine is taken up with day-to-day running of a restaurant, something he is throwing himself into with relish to ensure the success of the sixth La Mar establishment. He says: “I get up at around 9am and drink a shot of leche de tigre to get me going – it cures everything. Then I’ll take all my clothes to the laundry every day because every day I make a complete mess of them! I get to the restaurant at about 11am and have a staff meeting before tasting all the produce that’s arrived that day. I really like going to China Town – there’s loads of great produce and while it might not be as extensive as in Peru, it’s very good quality. Markets here are definitely a lot cleaner than in Peru.

“After lunch, I’ll catch up on my emails then at about 7pm I’ll go out front and smoke about 20,000 cigarettes out of nerves before dinner starts! Running a new restaurant can be stressful. I’ll be in the kitchen throughout the night but I also meet and greet diners, explaining their dishes. Last orders are at midnight, which means finishing at 2am and I get back to Barrio Norte at about 4am.

“I walk a lot as my flat has a great location: I’ve walked down to Puerto Madero, and over to the Malba museum up on Libertador Avenue, which I really liked. I love painting and hope to start up again when I have some spare time. I’m also a rocker at heart and love Argentine musicians such as Charly García or Pedro Aznar, the classics, so when I have some free time I can’t wait to go and see some live music, rock or tango. There’s so much culture here – something that’s very different to Lima – and I like it.”

Keen to sample local wares, Anthony dines out when he can and already has some firm favourites. “I love going to Oviedo, it’s a real classic, and I also really enjoy Aramburu and Bis. Although I love fine dining, I’m also just as happy with rice topped by a fried egg. I’m still in the market to find a good burger, though!”

As for friends, he has become close to Ernesto Lanusse, owner of the Nómade Food Truck, and 878 bar owner Julián Díaz, who have helped him to adapt to the porteño way of life and work. He adds: “Ernesto in particular is a great sounding box and I can tell him everything that I’m thinking, including my concerns and worries. He’s a bit like a psychologist for me! Plus his mum Dolli [Irigoyen] works close to the restaurant and she’ll send over bowls of rice pudding when she makes it – it’s the best in the world and that means a lot because we take rice pudding very seriously in Peru!”

Besides his family – his partner and son will move to Argentina next year – and friends in Peru, Anthony misses two aspects of Lima: his former place of work and Quilca neighbourhood. “I do miss being at the restaurant. Walking in and being there, working, everything. It’s quite arrogant to say so but I do feel like La Mar isn’t La Mar without me! And as I love music, I miss going out in Quilca, which is an edgy part of Lima with loads of gigs going on all the time.”

Although his travels have only taken him as far as Central Market to date, Anthony has a recipe book in the pipeline that will see him take in the lengthy Argentine coast. He says: “The idea is to stop off at all the little ports and towns, and focus on one main ingredient that they catch, then create a recipe using it. Despite having all this coastline, Argentines don’t eat much fish, and in fact some even seem to find it disgusting! So it might help make seafood become more popular.”

Buenos Aires Herald, April 4, 2015

Ph: Gastronomique Comunicación

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