February 18, 2009
Masters of Food and Wine, Mendoza: I attend a cooking class hosted by famed Spanish Chef Montse Estruch. Her restaurant, El Cingle, is situated at the base of Montserrat mountain, where she creates dishes known for their subtle flavors and floral elements.
The plate she creates exemplifies her cooking philosophy: the plate is alive with color and made from fresh local ingredients. Her aesthetic is completely Spanish and visually stunning–Picasso himself would be jealous!
The dish is this: a black olive tapenade, spread across the plate like a comma. A delicate dollop of hummous made from pureed garbanzos, onion, sugar, salt, cilantro, anise, chile and fresh yogurt. A rounded spoonful of roasted eggplant caviar, paired with sticks of roasted red peppers. Squares of goat cheese feta for a cubist look, while slivers of sweet potato chips cut the savory flavor of the dish. Delicate halved fresh figs accompany fresh cherry tomatoes. The whole thing is topped off with a drizzle of olive oil, crushed almonds and pistachios, escarole and flower petals.
Almost all of the ingredients used are economical and simple, and grown locally in Mendoza: eggplant, onion, red pepper, tomato, goat cheese, sweet potatoes (those from nearby Guaymallen are said to be Argentina´s best), almonds, and of course, olive oil.
The audience isn´t filled with wealthy foodies, but with local chefs, eager to learn. Chef Estruch complies, and presents the same dish 3 different and equally stunning ways.
This is her recipe for success: lively color, fresh local ingredients, and the camraderie of chefs eager to learn from each other.