True Intrigue Lies In Flavours That Are Distinct And Recognisable: Chef Javier Rodriguez

Considered to be one of the 100 best chefs in the world, the master in culinary magic brings a large serving of Argentinian food to India, one that’s innovative and yet true to its traditions.

Published On Feb 27, 2024 | Updated On Mar 06, 2024


Born in Argentina and skilled across the world, Javier Rodriguez, considered to be one of the 100 best chefs in the world and owner of El Papagayo, which features in the world’s 50 best restaurants (Latin America), doesn’t have any picturesque anecdotes involving culinary prodigy grandmothers or familial ties to the restaurant industry to share. What he does have however, in his words, “a deep appreciation for good food since childhood, alongside a penchant for various creative outlets like drawing and music”. 

“It was during my teenage years that I made the conscious choice to pursue a career as a chef, and since then, I've remained dedicated to continuously refining my skills and embracing the artistry of this profession,” he says. 


The chef, who was in town for a pop-up in Bengaluru at The Ritz Carlton, is taking his menu to Mumbai on February 28 at The Grand Hyatt, both organised by All Things Nice, where he’ll introduce the city to his absolutely fascinating creations. “My food for India will mirror my signature cooking style—simple yet bold flavours,” says the chef. 

Argentina is blessed with culinary influences from different parts of the world, thanks to its immigrants from Spain, Italy, Lebanon, and even some Germans, Poles and the British. So, its food reflects a combination of flavours that could be from anywhere in the world. However, traditionally, the food, much like India, Italy and other parts of the world, is quite region specific. Of course, before colonisation, local food was all about what was farmed and where. “In the northwest, for instance, one finds culinary practices reminiscent of pre-Hispanic traditions shared with southern Bolivian cuisine, characterised by intriguing flavours,” chef Rodriguez says, adding, “In a nutshell, Argentine cuisine is known for its bold and pure flavours and while spices are not extensively utilised, the country's exceptional produce shines through with simple cooking techniques and light seasoning.” 


Fire-grilling is one of their key cooking techniques, especially when beef is on the menu, which is quite possibly Argentina’s most-loved meat. But the seasoning, chef says, is minimal, “It is often just salt and occasionally accompanied by chimichurri.” 

Rodriguez says he finds great joy in experimenting with familiar flavours and yet honouring culinary traditions. It’s not easy because it’s not just about upping the game but also about retaining what's real. He says it’s essential to preserve the authentic essence of a dish to evoke emotions and memories. “Personally, I'm not inclined towards deconstructed food; it feels somewhat outdated to me. Instead, I believe in keeping flavours distinct and recognisable, as that's where the true intrigue lies,” he explains. 

And that brings us to his restaurant – El Papagayo. “It holds a special place in my heart as my inaugural restaurant, akin to a first-born child. Even after nine years, we strive to maintain the same freshness and vitality that characterised our opening day. In terms of food, we prioritise that, plus technical expertise and above all, precision, all the while ensure that taste remains our utmost priority,” states the chef. 

Having worked in different parts of the world — Rodriguez’s culinary education has predominantly been outside of Argentina — where he’s had the opportunity to work with renowned kitchens. “Travel has consistently served as my primary wellspring of inspiration. Beyond simply acquiring cooking skills, it has cultivated a broader, more open-minded perspective toward both food and business,” he says. And that is also perhaps what led him to have his unique vision towards food, something that goes beyond any schooling or skill. 

“While culinary expertise is undoubtedly crucial, there is a surplus of talented chefs in today's culinary landscape. Simply being a skilled cook is no longer sufficient for success. Primarily, you must excel as a leader, effectively communicating your vision and ensuring your team shares your understanding. Generosity plays a pivotal role here; your team must align with your thinking, necessitating dedicated time for teaching and mentorship. This allows you to focus your energy on innovating and crafting exceptional new dishes,” he remarks. 


Innovation of technique and experimentation with ingredients have led many a chef down the path where they’ve created some fantastic gourmet food, and with Rodriguez it’s no different. To him, gourmet encapsulates the essence of meticulousness and passion in culinary craftsmanship, irrespective of cost. “Even a humble dish like chicken soup or corn stew can embody gourmet qualities when prepared with the requisite time and attention to detail. It's not about the price tag; rather, it's about infusing soul and joy into the food. While some establishments may boast expensive ingredients, true gourmet experiences are characterised by the depth of care and love invested in each creation,” he says. 

The chef’s extensive travels have also led him to collaborate with kitchens worldwide, experiences that he says have been “incredibly enriching, fostering connections with passionate colleagues and mutual learning”. “Last year’s collab with Turntable in San Francisco, California, was memorable. The team demonstrated exceptional professionalism and hospitality, and working alongside chef and owner Rupert Blease and Carrie was truly rewarding,” he reminisces. 

The other that he couldn’t help but mention was at Chateau La Coste in the south of France. “This idyllic location, a haven for food, wine, arts, and architecture, is overseen by remarkable individuals. I had the opportunity to host a 15-day pop-up event in an art centre designed by the renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It was an intense yet immensely gratifying experience,” he says, further adding, “A highlight was a collaborative four-hands dinner with my dear friend Carlos Gaytan at his restaurant HA, located in the Hotel Xcaret in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Carlos and his team were incredibly gracious and professional, and the hotel itself offered an unparalleled experience.” 

At home however, off the clock, Rodriguez is much like any chef, sticking to traditional food for comfort. “My favourites include beef empanadas, a hearty asado shared with family on Sundays, and a comforting bowl of Locro—a stew made with meat, pumpkin, and corn—especially on a cold winter day.” 

Photo: Instagram/javierelpapagayo