After spending his younger years working summer jobs in various kitchens, Argentinian chef Agustin Ferrando Balbi left home at 24 to hone his skills in Japan. After cutting his teeth in restaurants like Haku, he opened his own eatery this year — Ando, a unique concept that combines Spanish, Italian and Japanese elements. We spoke to Balbi about his culinary journey and inspirations.
How did you first get into cooking?
While my love for food started at my grandmother’s dining table, my first foray into the kitchen was for a summer job at a family friend’s restaurant and I loved it. The thrill of service, the camaraderie of working together with the rest of the staff — it was addictive. I knew I found my calling to become a chef.
What training did you do to become a chef?
I formally enrolled at The BUE Trainers at Buenos Aires after high school. Before that I was working in kitchens since I was young, whether it was part-time after school or just devoting entire summers to restaurant work.
Why did you decide to move to Japan?
My move to Japan wasn’t only about Japanese food. At the time, my peers were heading to the traditional kitchens in France, Italy and Spain to hone their craft, but I wanted to do something completely different. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the techniques and treatments for seafood. Where better to do that than in Japan, the best place for amazing seafood produce and expertise?
What attributes make a great chef?
Firstly, practice. One cannot achieve skills without practice and repetition. Secondly, the willingness to evolve and the attitude to always keep learning. Last but not least, eating at restaurants as much as possible to experience the other end of the service. Being a guest is very important to understand the whole experience.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Mostly from nature and the ingredients, as I believe a chef is a person who studies ingredients to try to understand them with the goal of being the bridge that connects guests with nature.
Who are your culinary role models?
All the chefs that I worked for. Guillaume Bracaval at Four Seasons Tokyo, Seiji Yamamoto at Nihonryori RyuGin, as well as Seiichi Honda at Zurriola. Everyone left an impression and an impact in different ways, I’ve learnt very valuable lessons from all of them.
What ingredients do you like working with best?
I really love citrus fruits. I believe they are incredible ingredients that can elevate a dish instantly by adding not only a beautiful acidity, but also the sense of freshness together with a beautiful aroma.
What’s one of your favorite dishes to eat?
As a child, I grew up eating arroz caldoso that my grandmother would often make. It immediately reminds me home and stirs up this particular sense of generosity and hospitality.
How do you combine different culinary elements together at Ando?
Ando is very personal for me. It’s all about my journey and less about geography and genre. For example the Risas Del Jardin (Garden’s Laugh) is a that dish references my heritage — it is Kumamoto Wagyu grilled over charcoal and recalls the asados (grilled meat) my family used to make on Sundays in the garden behind our house, albeit elevated with my training in Japan.
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