Argentine chef turns home into intimate haute cuisine

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Most weekdays, Alejandro Langer's modest home looks like most others, with a neat arrangement of family photos adorning the living room walls and his daughter's toys strewn across the floor.

But on weekends, as if by magic, Langer becomes the head chef of his "La Cocina Discreta" restaurant ("The Discreet Kitchen"), and his living room is transformed into the establishment's dining room.

Three years ago, Langer abandoned his career as a photographer and set up his occasional restaurant in his home in the Argentine capital's Villa Crespo neighborhood.

In doing so, he caught the crest of the country's newest food wave, where diners enjoy restaurant-quality food prepared and served in the chef's own home.

"The private home-based restaurant is becoming more popular in Buenos Aires," the 34-year old chef told AFP.

"Foreigners come to eat there because they are looking for something off the typical tourist circuit," he said.

"Argentines come because they are fed up with traditional fare - and also because they want to dine in a more intimate atmosphere," he said.

Throughout the Argentine capital, there are now about 40 such restaurants that blur the line between home cooking and haute cuisine - and their numbers are growing all the time.

Americans, Canadians and Australians seem to be particularly enamored of these part-time establishments, where a hearty meal can be had for less money than at the typical restaurant found on the beaten tourist path.

As a bonus, visitors can also get a glimpse into everyday Argentine life.

At the Discreet Kitchen, Langer said, "diners take a seat wherever they choose. They can look into the kitchen and observe how the food is prepared," he said.

"They even use the family restroom, as they would in any private home," the chef added.

"And they stay as long as they like - which is not the case in the typical restaurant, where they would feel pressured to eat quickly so that they can make their seat available for the next patron," Langer said.

With just a few tables and chairs on any given evening, his little restaurant offers one of Buenos Aires' most intimate and sought-after dining experiences.

Still, as he prepared a dish of medallions of pork wrapped in pancetta, Langer told AFP he has no desire to expand.

"I don't want any more tables than this, because more would make it harder to chat with my diners," he said.

Argentina is not the only Latin American country whose inhabitants - either to supplement their income or spread their wings - are opening up restaurants within their homes.

The best-known example of this practice are Cuba's paladares, the small, family-run restaurants that island's Communist government has permitted its financially-strapped citizens to open up, as they struggle to eke out a living.

But while Cuba's home cooking typically is hearty regional fare, Argentina's home-based restaurants are gastronomic playgrounds, where often chefs serve up fanciful fusion cuisine which contrasts sharply with traditional specialities.

"These restaurants are different from the paladares of Cuba.

"In Buenos Aires," Langer said, "they were born out of a desire to innovate."

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