Growing up in Santa Lucia, Uruguay, Ignacio Mattos was surrounded by food. "I lived in a small town. We'd spent a lot of time on our farm; doing our own preserves, making our own wine, making our own charcuterie, butchering the cows. It was pretty real, rural and fun for a kid," he tells SBS Food.
"My grandmother had an Italian background so we did Italian food, as well as Spanish food. I'd help out cooking. Where I feel at home is in the kitchen."
He describes Uruguayan food as straightforward, simple and comforting. "And there's a lot of cooking over fire, cooking meat on the barbecue," he adds.
However, it was during a period where he was vegan that he really got into cooking. "It made it very difficult for my grandmother to figure out how to cook for me because it's not something she was familiar with. So I started cooking for myself and I realised it was one of my passions. I loved doing it, and that would be a way to get out the house and travel," he explains.
"I started cooking for myself and I realised it was one of my passions."
"It was very refreshing to see how these people were so driven and made their main focus the ingredients. To have these beautiful ingredients, you have to take care of the farmer. That relationship was very empowering and refreshing as a chef," he says.
When he arrived in New York to open a restaurant with Mallmann, he found his stride: "I fell in love with the city, the energy, the intensity and the diversity also. It's a very eclectic place, it's the place I wanted to live in."
At Estela, a bistro with one Michelin star, and Flora Bar, Mattos doesn't stick to one specific cuisine. "For me, it's important to try to find a New York way of making things, keeping it eclectic and open. It's not fusion, but it's different cultures and backgrounds re-articulated in a way that makes sense," he explains.
Altro Paradiso is an Italian restaurant, loosely inspired by his upbringing. "This is the closest thing to home for me. I apply some of these comfort elements that I learned to do through the cooking of my grandma, but I try not to replicate the things I grew up eating, I try to do it differently," he says.
"There is this particular ragu my grandma does. I did it one time, but I realised I'd rather keep the memory of it, preserve it and articulate it differently, but not replicate it exactly."
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Mattos at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival
When he comes to Australia for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival next month, Mattos will bring some of Estela's classics to Cutler & Co in Fitzroy.
One dish you'll definitely see on the menu is his famous beef tartare with pickled elderberries and sunchoke chips. In an interview with Vogue, the chef explained that his team follows a strict process to make the tartare, and adapts the recipe every day, depending on the ingredients they get.
"I'm very excited. We have a lot of amazing Australians working with us at the restaurant. I'm going with one of them, Sam Lawrence, the chef de cuisine from Estela. We're taking a sommelier too. We're looking forward to cooking and having some fun over there," he says.
The dinner at Cutler & Co has sold out, but you can still catch Mattos doing a free demonstration at the Queen Victoria Market during the festival.
The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival is happening across town from 19 to 29 March. You can find out more about events and book tickets here.
Literally meaning “pock-marked old lady tofu” this dish has to have one of the least complimentary names in all of the Chinese cuisine. Using Chengdu’s famous Pixian chilli bean paste, this has become a classic of Sichuan cookery. It’s very easy to make, too. Destination Flavour China