We met up with Pablo Rivero, sommelier and owner of the best parrilla in Buenos Aires, Don Julio, to talk Argentina, travel, and motivation.
By Carolina Beresford
The charm one finds in South America is hard to find anywhere else in the world. There is an energy here that resonates.
“There are things in South America that you can’t find in Europe. Not even by chance. There is an adrenaline here; you wake up poor and go to bed rich, or you wake up rich and go to bed poor. Many people feel that this place doesn’t change, that everything is wrong. but at the same time you get the feeling that any moment now we’re going to shoot up. That’s what motivates us. I think South America is the future. We just need to evolve.”
Many people will agree that the best steak in Buenos Aires can be found at Don Julio. What’s your secret?
“The most important thing is the product. Always. Nature is the most important thing. Generally, with great dishes, one has to try to intervene as little as possible. The same goes for great wines. Why? Because greatness comes from the earth. That’s the secret.”
Gastronomy is a profession, but in order to be the best, it has to be a vocation as well. What is it about working in this business drives you?
“I come here everyday and I see things that I like. I like that people come happy and leave happy; I like to see how someone’s face transforms when they taste the food. I took on the responsibility, and it’s not an insignificant one, of making sure people have a good time. When people come to eat at a restaurant, they are giving you their body. We work with their subjectivities, their psychology. Apart from that, you are sharing, or you have the responsibility of overlooking an intimate moment. You don’t eat with just anyone, nor do you eat just anywhere. There are not many more intimate acts throughout the day than eating. It’s a challenge, but when you feel this vocation you never get bored. You’re always waiting for the night, always pushing for tonight to be better. I love the small details. I have some Portobello mushrooms coming in today. Huge. I cook them on the parrilla with red onion. Things like that make me so happy, I can’t tell you! Why? Because with that piece of magic, POW! I’ll blow the roof.”
There is a sense of companionship, of sharing, that lies at the heart of Argentina. It’s a quality that attracts many foreigners .
“Imagine, people come here with twenty problems: the traffic drives them crazy, money, fighting with their partner – they arrive charged with issues. We want to recreate a perfect little world, a world where they feel good, where they are safe, a refuge. Julio is the name of a friend; we named the restaurant Don Julio in his honour. Julio symbolises friendship, reunion, wine. When people come here we want them to forget about everything bad that’s happening, or share it with us, or let us transform that moment. That is what we want. It has been our objective since day one, and today, 15 years later, it’s still our objective. I want to carry on doing the same thing. That objective made us what we are today.”
It’s true that many people come to South America and feel a sense of nostalgia, a strong sense of belonging. The type of open welcome that you describe is particularly Argentine. This country captivates many people.
“Argentina is huge, it’s like a world in itself. You know those adventure stories where the explorer is walking through one place, and suddenly crosses into what seems like a totally different country, with dangers and marvels? Well, Argentina is like that.
The best trip I took in Argentina was to Puerto Madryn, in Cubut, Patagonia. I went by car with my father – talking, fighting, laughing. It took us two days to get there. Never in my life have I seen a sky like the one I saw in Chubut. Never. It seems like you can see the earth’s curvature there. My father and I just lay by the road, looking up. We couldn’t believe it. We stayed there a long time. It was like a drug. I have never seen so many stars in my life; shooting stars, too.”
Finally, if you could invite any three people, dead or alive, to eat at Don Julio with you, who would they be?
“Carlos Gardel, John Lennon and Jorge Luis Borges. I’m longing to chat to Borges. Have you read his work? He comes up with things that leave you thinking four days straight! Incredible…”
Don Julio | Guatemala 4691
Credit Cards: All major cards
Open: Mon 12.00-16.00, 19.30-close; Tues-Sun 12.00-16.00, 20.00-close
Best for: Lunch or dinner