Chef Matias Ayala’s Christmas Comfort Food
For Chef Matias Ayala, executive chef of Raffles Jakarta, the more, the merrier and tastier. That’s why he loves the festive season.
Christmas is all about family and that lovingly include childhood memories. For Matias, Christmas is a truly magical time.
“It is a time we always get together with the whole family. Celebrating, eating, and playing board and card games until late night. As a young child, it is customary in our tradition to receive a gift at midnight on Christmas Eve,” he said fondly.
Matias hails from San Lorenzo, a small town about 400 kilometers away from the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires. “San Lorenzo is a very small town where everyone knows everybody, and everyone enjoys family style cooking,” he said.
While Christmas food is different in each country; while Argentinian festive food is of course special, Matias has begun to appreciate food from other tradition.
“In Argentina, we usually do a big barbecue called asado. Nowadays, after being outside my country for such a long time, I have started to enjoy a juicy roast turkey together with all the traditional condiments.
“I believe that during the festive season, food just tastes better, because we share it with our loved ones. That’s what I like to most, spending quality time with the people you care about, great conversation, and bringing back memories together from the good old times,” he said.
The chef is of Italian descent. His grandfather was from Italy so he grew up eating a lot of Italian food from his grandfather’s side and an equal volume of very good Paraguayan dishes from his grandmother’s side.
Matias also told FoodieS about an Argentinian traditional peculiar cooking technique, but first he made sure that the listeners were given enough background information.
Argentina has a long agricultural tradition and so farming equipment comes abundant in these parts. There, farmers would typically use a piece of machinery known as a disc plough to till the earth and prepare the land for planting.
These same farmers discovered that once the plough’s iron discs (discos de arado) had outlived their usefulness as a farming tool, they could be transformed into a cooking implement. Most plough discs that have been modified into cooking discs come with handles, legs, and lids.
Food prepared “al disco” or “al disco de arado” doesn’t refer so much to a particular recipe but rather a cooking method using a huge iron disc heated outdoors over a wood fire
“We cook all types of meat on the disk as well as vegetables, even fried items. The material of the ‘disco’ also lend a unique flavor to the food cooked on top of it, which is very amazing. This is one my first fond memories about food,” Matias said.
Cooking and enjoying food with the family inspired him to grow a passion in cuisine. “My father really liked cooking. He was always trying new things, so I started as his helper. I assisted with the various cooking techniques, and I liked it because the more I helped, the more I got to try different ingredients.
“Cooking with him really sparked my interest. I became passionate about food, and get satisfaction from seeing other people enjoying my food,” said Matias, who knew since he was a kid that he was going to be a chef.
Matias started a professional career when he was 18. It was at a small restaurant in Rosario, near San Lorenzo. He worked while pursuing culinary studies.
From the small pond of Rosario, he moved to the big one, Buenos Aires. Seven years in the big city, he ended at the Park Hyatt working with a highly trained chef. Through Hyatt, Matias then moved to New Zealand, then to Dubai where he worked at the world famous Burj Dubai. He was executive chef at City Centre Rotana in Doha prior to his move to Jakarta.
Starting as a cook for the family, Matias considers his culinary style as straightforward. “I like comfort food, using simple ingredients, but executed exceptionally well. I believe great cooking is getting the most out of simple and basic ingredients.”
For FoodieS, Matias showcased four festive dishes. He explained that the dishes actually have very different flavors from each other, however they match very well.
The first dish is a marinated salmon, where the delicate flavor of the salmon brings out the spices in the marination. The second is a roasted pumpkin soup with extra sweetness and smokiness to the dish combined with mascarpone cheese.
“As the main course, we have a nice slow roasted turkey, with garlic, lemon, orange, rosemary served with the classical toppings. Great for Christmas!
“And last but not least, a traditional old fashioned Christmas log; something sweet to finish is always good,” he said.
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