What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?
I have been influenced by my best friend’s father who used to call us to join him to cook dishes from the Nouvelle Cuisine with an Argentine twist. Every week, I used to go to his house and watch him working with big pieces of Argentine beef in the charcoal BBQ, rolling up fresh pasta every Sunday and meeting with friends all the time.
I have my first memory as a cook when I was 15 years old. When I celebrated my Birthday I did “Filet tournedos with mushroom cream and roasted potatoes”. It was the worst dish that I ever made but all my friends were very happy with the table’s set-up, a proper menu, a starter-main- dessert, the table cloth, glasses, napkins, everything.
I can also still remember the smell of my grand mother’s “empanadas” filling.
What would you say has inspired your cooking the most?
All my inspiration comes from imagining people’s thoughts and combination of flavours after they taste my food. Once this is achieved in my mind I can start to cook. Everything happens in my mind before I start working with my hands.
Also, it is very important to find something to say through my dishes. I taught at a University in Argentina for seven years. This is why for me it is very important to teach something new through my menu. At “UNA” we serve a dish with Argentine Rib Eye and when we present it we speak about how grateful we are for British Culture because through them we learnt everything about breeds, cattle, commercialization, etc. Basically, we eat meat because of the British who came to Argentina in the XIX century.
Describe your own culinary style.
My style is simple in a way and complex in another. Simple, because all the recipes that you can eat in my menu are based on old methods and I only try to use new techniques and ingredients to improve the recipe. Complex because I really like to find the best recipe to mix it all. In my dishes you will savour the greatest amount of textures in your mouth –smooth, crunchy, something juicy, etc-. I am not satisfied mixing ingredients in order to reach a certain flavour. I am happy when each bite is different from the next one.
What are your most indispensable ingredients?
Think…therefore, cook. Is this an ingredient? I think so. I like to explore recipes with different oils. I love using “azeite de dende”(palm oil). And the usual ones: garlic, herbs and colourful organic vegetables.
What kind of experience do you aim to give guests at UNA?
One night, a guest signed in the guest book that we have in the venue and she said: “Thank you for creating this. When I become older and I walk through Euston Road with my children and my grandsons I can say ‘I had a dinner inside the Clock Tower’. Over the years the food business has changed and today people are looking for more than just exceptional taste combinations – they’re seeking an authentic and unique experience that combines culinary creativity with a stunning backdrop and personal service.
That’s exactly what UNA is dedicated to delivering. Bringing together 12 guests around one table, diners travel through Latin America as a seven course meal unfolds that’s inspired by the flavours, ingredients and culinary styles of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico and other Latin American countries. Featuring both classical and conceptual dishes.
The experience at UNA is something beyond food. Food is important of course. But the experience is in itself more than that.
How long will you be staying at the Clock Tower this time?
Throughout 2015 for sure and maybe return in 2016. We don’t know. UNA has been created as something ephemeral respecting a Pop-Up philosophy: “Today we are, tomorrow we don’t know”. So if you really want to live the experience, come now.
How do you make sure that each of your guests has a wonderful experience?
“UNA” has been a dream came true. I started to work on this idea eight years ago when I was not living in London, so I can make sure that everything has been thought of as something that I never knew could be possible. Now, with this in my hands, I can tell you that my guests are the most important thing when they come to the Clock Tower. I take care of them because they are part of my history as a chef.
How many sittings do you have a day?
Just one. Part of the experience is a kitchen working exclusively for one table.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?
When I had the experience to cook for Mercedes Sosa, the most important Latin American singer It was a private dinner for 8 people around one table.
My sabbatical year in 2012 represented a positive break in my career. I came to Europe for two months and ended up staying for 10 months.
Many things happened in a magical way. I sat accidentally next to Leo Carreira and Nuno Mendes at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ceremony and I had the opportunity to meet the mythical kitchen of “Viajante”. I then went to Girona for a month to cook at El Celler de Can Roca. Everything that happened this year made me more confident with my ideas.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?
Find a mentor, learn from him, respect him and then be yourself.Eat in restaurants. You can learn more from eating than cooking.Try to earn more money working so you can travel when you are young.
What’s next for you?
I always wanted to have my permanent restaurant in London and I’m working on this business model. “UNA” is the innovation of the private dining room. Meanwhile, I’m working on different ephemeral projects as the next one will be called “DOS”.
What’s been your most embarrassing kitchen moment?
Well, I don’t like to lie…when I tried to turn off a torched pan with water.
What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?
The Kitchen Table, behind Bubbledogs and Momofuku Ko in NYC.
Find out more about Martin and UNA here |unalondon.com