Patagonian Capers, the southernmost in the World
More than thirty thousand ideas which demonstrate the potential of Argentines to search for a different solution, to create a new product, to improve a process that, in one way or another, makes everyday life easier for people.
And that’s how the caper finally landed in Patagonia. Just south of the 42nd parralel lies the peninsula Valdez and Puerto Madryn. Most of my clients flying south visit to watch the whales and take a stroll with the Magellanic penguins. Now there is another good reason: the Patagonian caper.
Alcaparras Patagónicas is a young, small family owned enterprise run by Pablo Antonio Chinni. In 2015 he began with the production of capers in the ecological reserve El Doradillo where he owned one hectare. Although the first plantation was lost, in the Spring that followed the plants were carrying their first fruits. The first year of harvest he produced 300 jars of capers. In 2019 this was up to 2,000 jars of approximately 70 grams each.
From him I learned that more capers are consumed in the world than olives.
“We had one hectare and we thought, what should we plant? After we did some research we learned what kind of plants could withstand this type of semi-desert climate with no more than 200 mm of water per year ”.
“Thus arose the caper, which is from Morocco and southern Italy and Spain, where conditions are similar as here.”
Without any kind of worldwide experience in this area, this project was born. Alcaparras Patagonicas thus became the southernmost caper growing & production area in the world.
It marked the beginning of the venture and luckily the production keeps on growing. It took 4 years until the plant took root and began to bear fruit ”.
The plants come from La Banda, a cultivator in Santiago del Estero, in the north of the country. During the first year after planting, ‘everything disappeared’, but the following Spring the seedlings sprouted.
The plant had to adjust to these new latitudes.
Today Alcaparras Patagónicas produces two thousand bottles, which is quite an amazing record given the fact capers have never been grown that far south before.
The production suffices to satisfy demand in Puerto Madryn. The next target is to be able to supply the gourmet stores in the city.
From Caper Bush to Plate: “En Mis Fuegos”
El Pampeano que renovó la gastronomía patagónica
Gustavo Rapretti, the pampas boy who reinvented the Patagonian gastronomy, was born in General Pico, the Pampean plains made up of gauchos, cows and ombúes. He studied biological chemistry and from there he moved to Patagonia, first to Trelew, the capital of the province of Chubut, then to Puerto Madryn.
“I came to this area 30 years ago and I fell in love with the sea, also with what the sea can give us. Today, what I miss the most about being able to go out is walking for hours with Betina, my wife, along the coast, looking at the sea,” he says.
An amateur cook since he was 11 years old, he decided to change course and follow his passion. He went on to study gastronomy at the IAG and simultaneously worked with great chefs such as the Catalan Joan Coll and for a time with Fernando Trocca.
As a cook, he traveled the country and lived in Ushuaia. He finally settled in Puerto Madryn where he planted his roots. There he now runs & owns the restaurant “En Mis Fuegos”. He’s considered one of the inescapable references of the cuisine of Atlantic Patagonia.
“How much of the chemist in you is still there in you as a cook? ”
A lot, is his answer. Not so much in the techniques, but in the imagination and in the way of thinking about food. “When I take a salicornia (a succulent plant that grows on the coast of Patagonia), I know that it is very alkaline, so I imagine cooking that has no more alkalinity or pH. When mashing sardines, I calculate the acetic concentrations and the effects it will have on the muscle. In all of that, there is chemistry.”
How does Gustavo define his kitchen?
It is a local cuisine with local produce. In 2003 he began to understand that the gastronomy of the area required communication. That there were fantastic things, but little used. So he started looking for small producers, to see what the fishermen did and what they ate, to work with the territory.
With the sea, but also with the plateau and the mountain range. With products such as undaria alga, which is pure umami. Or the different salts, those produced by drying and by wind erosion.
Foreign tourists used to be the only ones in search for “native” food. Luckily, thanks to communication, that is changing. Communication & marketing is crucial.
Local fishermen used to always eat the same thing. Moving 80 kilometers inland and that product would no longer arrive.
In each place one has to discover what’s available. In EMF they do very much just that! When children come to eat, they are invited into the kitchen and let them prepare their fish dish. For many Argentines unfamiliar with fish, it’s a way to explore and become familiar.
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