Driving into Fairfield West to Margarita’s Argentinian butchery, I was hit by the vision of Hernan. I knew as soon as I saw him that this was going to be one of the coolest episodes, as Hernan is really tall, has a huge head of curly hair, and looks like Sideshow Bob... more on that later.
Margarita’s butchery was very impressive. It was nice to see a shop where everything, right down to the salsa, is made on the premises - from the empanadas to the 10 different types of chorizo. There was all this cool stuff that you don’t see very often, such as cooked beef tongue, which reminded me of my mother-in-law’s pressed tongue that she serves on Saturdays. And then there was the brawn – which is a thinly sliced whole pig’s head that’s set in its own juices until it goes firm and gelatinous – not something you see very often in Sydney butchers, which is a shame because it’s so delicious.
I think it’s a dish that quite a few nationalities cook, including the British, so it was great to see a different nationality’s take on it. I also know brawn as “head cheese” which I thought was just a term among chefs, so I was pretty blown away when one of the young Argentinian girls at the party knew it by that name as well. It was quite remarkable that I could get blood sausage, ox tongue and pig’s brawn all in one shop. You rarely see this any more, especially in an Australian butcher’s shop.
Because Argentina was colonised both by Italians and Spanish, there is a kind of mixing pot of cuisines, and you can see the Spanish influences in the chorizo, and the Italian influences in a dish like veal Milanese. The asado, or Argentinean barbecue, for me was interesting. The heat coming off the barbecue was so intense.
We were shooting on a really cold day – only about 5 degrees and so cold I couldn’t feel my toes, but once the asado got going in the evening it was so hot just from the heat off the coals.
It’s not as quick a form of cooking as you’d imagine. They build up the heat with these huge flames then they let it drop right down, so it’s really mellow, and ends up being quite a slow form of cooking. It seems to fit well with that Latino lifestyle of not worrying too much, taking it easy, drinking, dancing – “the meal will be ready when it’s ready” attitude. No stress.
And while Melbournian Hernan’s business is hospitality and catering, his knife work was scary. He was throwing this knife around in a way that I thought he was going to hurt something or someone. I felt obliged to take the knife off him to slice the garlic - I thought it was safer for everyone involved!
What I thought was really beautiful was that everyone in the family danced. All the kids danced. The family is all about dancing. And it gives them a life skill that the mum and dad have taught them, so if they ever need to use it to generate income, they can, or they can just use it for fun and enjoyment. As I said to them: “A family that dances together, stays together”.