My time in Buenos Aires was nearing its end. Knowledge of Argentinas capital had proliferated questions of its food scene. Why was I so encouraged and hungry to find a restaurants marked with the big V? It is 5000 miles from home. But what is home anyway? Maybe a view, narrowed by a town or a city is poorer for it. It is my planet. I understand that no action, however small, or distanced from an observer is relevant. A meatless restaurant in Argentina reaches further than a continent it is a world movement and that is exciting.
(Includes Chef Nico in action …..[1 minute clip] below)
The buzzer to gain entry already offered an air of seclusion. For a girl more used to encountering sheep than people around her rural town, it was a welcome if brief respite from the crush of shoppers, joggers and cars.
Algaia’s bright, walled yard, filled with cooling, exotic plants is a haven. Chic French music whispers its presence and adds atmosphere. Though the kitchen is separate from the simple seating, it is not hidden away. The sound of spoon hitting against pan. The sizzle of hot oil, the confident, rhythmic knock of knife on wood, an acoustic backdrop.
Nico is one of those people who is quiet, subtle but whom you sense is full of wisdom, like a thick encyclopedia, resting in the bookcase, or a gentle Eastern Master. Nomadic for twenty years. He left his native France and set out on an adventure of slow travel. Cooking to pay his way. Taking his time to learn the intricacies of foods and cultures from other lands.
The kitchen was scented with warm fragrances of herbs and millet, sizzling in peppery olive oil. I followed Nico as he showed me around his space. A small kitchen garden, tended when time allows. An alfresco space, and, for those days when the skies pour forth unrelenting, two rooms under roof. When Nico found love in Buenos Aires, he gave up his boat and pulled anchor. His Spanish now fluent. The stereotypical traits of a typical French man dispersed. A daughter was born.
As natural as can be, his longing to discover foreign lands acquiesced to a desire for stability, for his daughter and a compulsion to finally be the master of his own space. A business partner, since gone, manoeuvred him to a restaurant space bigger than Nico’s courage envisaged and way out of his comfort zone. With a child to care for and a business to grow, it was natural for his daughter to be part of that. She has grown up alongside papa, playing in the gardens, drawing crayoned stick figures whilst diners sat around her. The atmosphere at Algaia is peppered with family. I think this is why the kitchen feels open, accessible to all. I visited twice during my visit and each time I wanted to linger, long after my table was clear and my stomach content.
The weekends at Algaia are something special. It is family time. Nicolas wanted to encourage people to come and experience natural fresh food, bring their children and take time to relax. For the children there is a bright little playroom. A bright face young Argentinian girl is employed to entertain energetic young ones. The food is natural, plant based. Surprisingly most of his guests are not vegetarian (yet) but conscious of health. The menu is simple. The flavours satisfying. Algaia is an experience, and for a solo traveller like myself, a place to rest and feel at home.
Like us all, Nico has a growing sense of the need for community. For business to be conducted and supported among friends. Perhaps one day, organic urban farms (all produce is currently grown outside of the city) and local artisans could bring their produce, not only for Nico to use in his kitchen, but also to sell to his guests. The kitchen garden could thrive at the hands of a green fingered gardener, freeing Nico to devote all his time to the business of cooking and offering more classes. That morning, Nico had spent, privately teaching a whole family to form falafel, dress salads, create sauces and seemingly effortlessly build nutrition dense flavorsome meals. Skills he is keen to pass on. Just being at Algaia makes you want to take time, take a little more care perhaps, and savour what is placed in front of you.
I felt a little sad upon leaving the sanctuary of Algaia. I know nothing of its kind in the UK. Not just because of the warm air and keen sunshine but the comfort of kind food, the quiet community and slow, welcoming pace is a nourishment to the soul and, unfortunately a commodity rare today.