Chef Alejandra Pais of Bio Restaurant
Buenos Aires, Argentina
I am very proud to say that, for the last 16 years, my parents and I have been running the first certified organic restaurant in Latin America. In a country like Argentina (a Monsanto stronghold where fields are ridden with GMOs and synthetic fertilizers), getting people to appreciate organic produce is revolutionary.
My passion for food developed through circumstance, largely because of the lifestyle that my parents adopted and encouraged. There were never any prepackaged, frozen, or mass-produced products in my fridge at home. Every week my mother would go to the Agronomy Department of the University of Buenos Aires, where she would buy organic fruit and vegetables from a market stall run by students. I always loved watching her cook for friends and guests: She would tell them about the products she had chosen, where she had bought them, and even how not to waste any part of them. Slowly but surely, my mother’s friends started buying these products themselves. The fact that I am a chef today is down to her, as she taught me to cook using what we had at home.
We make a conscious effort in our restaurant to avoid waste.
We started by offering one dish a day, using ingredients that would have soon gone to waste or been thrown away, and today we even have a small “anti-waste” menu.
We also run cooking classes where we ask participants to create recipes with ingredients given to them on the spot. I want to reinvigorate creativity and imagination, to reawaken people’s taste buds that have been dumbed down with all the monosodium glutamate that is pummeled into mass-produced foods!
Some of the most important raw materials on our menu include local produce and native Argentinian fruits that have been almost completely forgotten. The variety of fruits and vegetables on the market is constantly decreasing—everything is simply reduced to “lettuce,” “tomato,” “pumpkin,” “onion,” etc. Farmers respond to demands from the market, and this is why it is important to speak out and help people understand how important it is to know what they are eating, where it comes from, and how it has been produced. Through our recipes we are trying to show people that different varieties exist. We like to think that, by doing this, we are helping Argentinians to know more about their country, and also to support local biodiversity. Here is an easy and satisfying recipe for a sweet and sour sauce: mistol chutney.
Mistol is a local fruit from the Gran Chaco, where indigenous peoples have eaten it for centuries. It is included in the Slow Food Ark of Taste. The fruits look like jujubes or very hard dark red cherries, and taste sour. Mistol is in season in March.
– 200 grams of mistol
– 2 medium-sized onions
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 2 cloves
– 2 cardamom seeds
– 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
– salt and pepper
Brown the onions. Once they are golden in color, add the whole fruits and all the other ingredients and cook them on a low heat with the lid off until all the liquid has completely evaporated.
Once it has cooled, it can be kept in the fridge for up to 6 months. If mistol is not available, good substitutes include fruits such as mango, plum, cherry, pineapple, peach, apple, and even onion, raisins, courgette, tomato, and aubergine. This chutney is delicious with meat, fish, or rice.