The Argentinian chef Lucas Bustos, from his hometown, Mendoza, has already had more than ten years of experience in the so-called “mountain range” cuisine (cocina cordillerana in Spanish), an Argentinian gastronomic specialty that uses the particular weather of the country to its favour and that has wine as its main character.
With his company Wine Way, Bustos has specialized, generating a great international impact, in the design of gastronomical experiences in wineries, a touristic niche that is growing in all the “wine capitals” of the world. The chef leads an important team whose success is not only visible at the Ruca Malén winery but at other recognized wineries of Mendoza as well, such as the Catena Zapata, Melipal y Lagarde, which he designed and currently runs.
It is worth mentioning Bustos’s curriculum. He recently became the only Argentinian invited to make a thematic exposition at the International Summit of Gastronomy Madrid Fusion along with the most important chefs of the world. There, he gave a lecture about “cordirellana” cuisine, his specialty, and about the seducing charms of the marriage between Malbec wine and Argentinian meat. It was also the perfect occasion for the chef to present the case of the experience at the Ruca Malén winery, which won the Gold Medal of the Global Best of Wine Tourism in the category of Best Experience at a Winery Restaurant in the World, the most prestigious competition in the world of wineries, hosted by Great Vine Capitals.
Speaking about his experience, Bustos has been coking with the prestigious chef Daniel Boulud, -referent of the French cuisine in New York- where he exhibited the best of “cordillerana” cuisine. His international experience includes a performance at the Argentinian Embassy in London, where he prepared a menu inspired in a chapter of the Martín Fierro or in Hong Kong, China, where the American Club of this city invited him, in the eve of the celebration of the International Malbec Day.
This year he will spend a lot of time in London and Sao Paolo celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Ruca Malén winery with the objective of revaluing cordilleranian dishes.
What geographical and climatic characteristics characterize the so-called “cordilleranian” cuisine?
The framework in which we develop our cuisine is directly related with the fact that we are located in the west of Argentina, along the mountain range, with a very particular altitude above the sea level and that makes the products of this area have a clear difference with products of different parts of the country. The vine and the olives were the first products that adapted to the region thanks to European immigration, these are the most important products in our economy and the rest of the products that we developed afterwards have, in some way, joined this micro economy that was already set up.
What importance does the wine production have in this type of gastronomy?
The wine industry has a lot to do with different studies of the soil and with the understanding of why some places in our valleys have certain characteristics. We have been using this information given to us through the world of wine to apply it to our cuisine, and it is also obvious that wine, is one of the main stars of our food, so it always has to be there. This happens in different ways, directly from our recipes, in the participation of products derived from the wine production process and wine as an idea or inspiration for the creation of our dishes. People travel a long way to come to Mendoza, try our food and wines in the place were they are gestated, that’s why we empower the whole ecosystem.
As you mentioned, the gastronomic history of the region has left its legacy in this type of cuisine. In what way did this happen?
Yes. Another influence in this cuisine is the historic development and the different tendencies that have been included in our cuisine. There are several influences, before 1561 we have the inhabitants of this land before the first European migration, but we also have the Inca influence that came before that. Afterwards we have the colonization and everything else after the European migration, which had a huge influence in Argentinian cuisine, specially the influence of Spanish and Italians. The migratory currents in Mendoza particularly modified the history of the wine industry.
The phenomenon of restaurants inside wineries has grown and consolidated as an interesting niche inside tourism, why do you think the demand for these restaurants is rising?
The restaurant inside a winery was born with the idea of generating an experience that went beyond the technical tasting of wines. In my point of view it has to do with the natural evolution of a market that has become very competitive at an international level. Maybe in Canada you can find thousands of different tags and brands of wines that come from many different countries and you have to choose, how to make a difference? Wine has become an object of interest, more than a drink, it’s a life style, its consumers travel looking for this pleasure of drinking and they come to this city. Taking this into account we decided to work with winemakers, and the winery owners, the leaders of tourism, and we created an experience that allowed clients in some way to get that feeling that they were part of a winery. This indelible memory makes the person have us as a reference when they choose wine in the future, what we try to do is to generate that magic and remain in the consumer’s memory.
How do you supplement this gastronomic experience inside wineries?
One of the restaurants we have, Ruca Malén, is the oldest one, thanks to a menu we designed for this restaurant we were chosen as the best Argentinian restaurant in a winery and we went to compete to the US. There we were chosen as the best experience at a winery restaurant among the big capitals of wine. After ten years of hard work it was very satisfying to receive that recognition to your effort. When we designed those menus we tried to generate an experience that was every time more complete and interesting or solid in matters of the content that we were transmitting. For example, today we are working in a tasting menu that represents the whole wine production process and the people involved in this process. We represent the harvest, the alcoholic fermentation, the barrels in stowage, and sharing wine with friends, it is all in the menu, it is a conceptual development that allows us to play with our own instruments with the help of producers to get products that are very special in this time of the year, we also have an orchard and organic products which have a great influence in our cuisine and that are highly appreciated by the tourist.
Given that you have been in contact with big references of the world of wine around the world, how is Argentina different from the rest in this fierce competition?
When you look at the capitals of wine around the world, you realize that it is very hard to compete with restaurants in winery, with the investment Americans have, or with the technology Germans develop or compete with the history Italians or French have. I asked experts, and they have explained to me that the Argentinian industry has managed to consolidate a solid history in the last fifteen years, and that generates trust, credibility and expectations. On a different note, given the internal circumstances we have a lot of creativity available, to create a different space. The formulas that gave good results in different countries don’t work here, and we have to create something new. History, vision to the future, quality and creativity when it comes to creating experiences, all come together in what Argentinian wineries have to offer, and that is what people see around the country, in the south, or in the north. Thanks to the effort put into wine tourism, we are at the same level as other wine capitals of the world.