Interview: Manuel and Verónica, Tierra Negra Gourmet – Buenos Aires

Tierra Negra Gourmet specializes in dishes from Argentina and South America using fresh, seasonal and organic ingredients. Professional chef Manuel and Verónica, a travel planner and sommelier, operate the cooking school from their apartment in the Hollywood Palermo section of Buenos Aires and recently began offering online cooking classes.

Tell us about your background and why you decided to open a cooking school.

I (Manuel) was born in Buenos Aires and grew up during a period in the country where there began to be a lot of access to foreign influence–music, products, customs and information. I was studying in medical school but my heart went the other way…so when I was 23, I left and entered a gastronomy school to become a chef and travel the world. Since then, traveling and having new life experiences has been an ever-present fire.

I met Verónica in 2005 and we have been together and traveling ever since. We lived in El Calafate (remote Southern Patagonia) and we were expats in New Zealand for around two years, where we met people from all over the world. We came back to Argentina in 2010 and in 2012, we formed Tierra Negra Gourmet to show the world the Argentine and Latin American cultures through gastronomy. We continue to travel the world as ambassadors of our traditions.

What are some typical dishes that are shared around the family table?

Beef has been a staple food since the late 19th century, when we had a large wave of immigration from Europe. They found beef to be extremely affordable compared to Europe, so it became an everyday meal. Over the last 30+ years, food has become more international in big cities such as Buenos Aires because of globalization and a convenient exchange rate for import. It brought access to food from all over the world including exotic vegetables and fruits (arugula, kale, kiwifruit, papaya) and new ways of using proteins like pink salmon that were widely spread in our country (sushi). Italian style food like pizza or pasta is all over the country.

Fresh dairy products, charcuterie and one-pot cooking were really typical in our traditions, along with fresh meats like llama, pork and goat, as well as the eastern Mediterranean food brought by the Moors to Spain before colonization in the 15th century. It is all part of the melting pot that is our culinary legacy.

What is your culinary philosophy?

We love nature; we are part of it. And even though science and technology bring comfort and improved quality in human lives, it is not for free. We are far from being sustainable, and in our times, it’s crucial to become aware of these issues. We understand and support a way of life in harmony with nature where balance and evolution are deeply related, and food free of poisons that harm the soil equilibrium is part of that understanding. That is why we grow our herbs, we buy organic and fair trade if possible, we recycle as much as we can and we make compost for the plants in a path to a waste-nothing life!   

Argentina is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. What makes your country such a powerhouse when it comes to wine?

The reason why Argentina is such an important wine producer is the Italian and Spanish people who moved to Argentina in the late 19th century looking for better opportunities in life. Many were winemakers in their places of origin, mostly growing table wine. Generation after generation, these immigrants became part of the spirit of our nation, and the wine was served at our tables, at asados (traditional barbecue), and meetings of every kind. When the export of wine started to grow globally in the 90s, we were already at a great starting point with our Malbec, which has become the star for Argentina.

Besides Malbec, what other Argentinian wines should we try?

The Argentinian wine that everybody should try is Torrontés. It is actually the only 100% local wine, and is a white, believe it or not. This amazing dry white wine is a natural blend between two varietals that winemakers would grow typically in the northwest of our country, in a valley called Calchaquí, named after the first nations people who lived in the area. Torrontés is a wine with a fresh floral nose that instantly surprises you when it reaches the tongue. A must-try!

Tierra Negra is now offering its cooking classes on-line. Have you had a good response?

We did have a great response, mostly starting with guests who had been at our classes while they were in Buenos Aires. They showed great support and we appreciate it so much! Such a great response encouraged us to focus and work hard to offer the best possible online experience when it comes to cooking classes.

We love to show to our guests an authentic perspective of South American culture through the food. As locals, we deeply understand why we cook the way we do, simply because it is in our DNA, and that magic is what we want to share with you! It is our identity, our soul, in a professional yet relaxed way.

Thank you!

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