Matías Tesoriero, the chef at Borravino, the unmissable restaurant in Villa Pehuenia

Che Cordovan, I have a pig, is it useful to you? With this type of proposal, Matías Tesoriero, a chef born in Villa Giardino and living in Villa Pehuenia, in western Neuquén, creates the menu for his restaurant Borravinoin the Blue Gulf, in front of the Aluminé lake.

It is not easy to get products in a remote place on the connectivity map: to get to the mountain village where less than 2,000 inhabitants live, you have to cover 60 kilometers of gravel from Primeros Pinos, through RP 23. “Geographically we are still isolated, but I’m not complaining; I did have to adapt.”

Borravino’s living room. It’s only seven tables. The terrace is used on days when there is no windMariana Eliano

When the supplier –carefully chosen– asks him that question, Matías looks at Ailen Martorella, a partner in the restaurant and in life, and they think, what do we do with the pig? That’s where the idea comes from and it can come out, as it did that time, a porchetta.

With just seven tables and some more on the terrace that are used only when there is no wind, in Borravino culinary dexterity and imagination are fertile. Perhaps that is why Tesoriero has already gained a prominent place in the national gastronomic scene. In 2019, he was surprised by a call from the chef Martín Molteni to invite him to cook, on behalf of his region, at the restaurant on the 9th floor of the CCK, in the City of Buenos Aires. He made a trout curd with mashed cauliflower and a mushroom soup. For dessert, chocolate and pine nut cake.

He also participates in Villa Pehuenia Chef Festival –the municipality is the Gastronomic Capital of Neuquén–, the meeting sponsored by Dolli Irigoyen and Cristophe Krywonis. Matías has been part of it since one of the first editions, more than 15 years ago “when he was something familiar”.

Matías Tesoriero in action.
Matías Tesoriero in action.Mariana Eliano

He was born in Villa Giardino, a town in the Punilla Valley, and his first job was in a brothel in that town. From there worked and trained and traveled: all those verbs are inside your food. He studied at cooking school Saffronin Córdoba, and at one point, at the beginning of 2008, the possibility of an internship in the restaurant Messinain Marbella, which is from Mauricio Giovannia cook from Córdoba who over the years managed to one Michelin star. Matías traveled to Spain, cooked fish in the Mediterranean and spent time working in Mallorca as well.

What was the dish on the Messina menu that you liked to cook the most?

Uh, it was a long time ago. It may be an erupting volcano that we were doing. It was a flourless chocolate volcano that pretended to be a mountain. Around the thyme sprigs were the trees and we finished it at the table with a teaspoon of citrus salt in the crater and inside it was filled with orange and watermelon juice that was the lava. The reaction to the citrus salt was a fizz, like that of the Fish candies.

His name had been registered in a database of the cooking school and one day he received a proposal to be a chef at the inn The hidden one, in Villa Pehuenia. At that time he did not know where that place was, but he did not think too much about it and applied and was selected. As soon as he knew the place he wanted to lay foundations.

A few months later he met Ailen and they continued cooking and walking together, since 2014 also with their son Benito.

Tesoriero's cuisine is nourished by local products.
Tesoriero’s cuisine is nourished by local products.Mariana Eliano

“From there I came flashed with technology. It was something I didn’t know about and it caught my attention.” He brought the molecular cuisine chip and during the first years of his return, it was what mobilized him, and made cheese foam, raspberry air and deconstructed traditional dishes.

It will be the calm of this place surrounded by mountains and forests of araucarias and ñires or going out to look for pine mushrooms and pine nuts, the thing is that over time he approached the product, valued it and made it the center of his kitchen.

“Now it’s the opposite: we don’t do much to it, as little as possible. I like simple cooking, based on products. Borravino today is that”.

Oyster mushrooms, locally produced mushrooms.
Oyster mushrooms, locally produced mushrooms.Mariana Eliano

Tesoriero joins the trend of rescuing and claiming the origin of the product: who makes it, through what hands it passed, how it got to the place. Thus he chooses his suppliers as if he were someone to marry. It is not easy because it is concentrated in the vicinity: the province of Neuquén. Work with the cheeses Maurice Couly (“Hey, I need cheese, what do you have? The other time I had a blue tres leches cheese and I used it for a sweet potato with honey”), the olive oil Eternum from Rincón de los Sauces, the red fruits from Aluminé, the green eggs from the Araucanian hen, the trout from the hatchery Vilcunco, the pine nuts, which he uses to make the Italian gremolata sauce, and in the summer, he buys goats from the veranadores. “The kitchen is emerging based on the product: about three years ago we had a slate.” From time to time he treats himself, the last one was a truffle oil that he bought through MercadoLibre.

Warm atmosphere and overlooking the lake in Borravino.
Warm atmosphere and overlooking the lake in Borravino.Mariana Eliano

This week’s board reads: Roasted Carrots with Feta Goat Cheese, Almonds, Herbs and Vinegar. Autumn vegetables and fruits have already started: quince, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, sweet potato, sweet potato. It also reads: lamb with creamy white polenta that comes from Colonia Caroya and there you can see the Cordovan touch, in addition to the little song that Matías never wants to lose.

What is an authentic flavor?

The taste of the real product, without masking it so much. If you say tomato, let it be a tasty tomato and don’t do a thousand things to hide a bad tomato. Let it be smelled in a sauce like the one your mom or mine or your grandmother used to make. Organic products, from people who produce it conscientiously. Let there be freshness, that is why we are enthusiastic about the project of a vegetable garden, here a few kilometers away.

Freshness and color, in addition to good flavor, are present in Tesoriero's dishes.
Freshness and color, in addition to good flavor, are present in Tesoriero’s dishes.Mariana Eliano

The authentic flavor is also, for the chef, the flavor of the memory. Like the angel hair soup that her grandmother Luisa used to make. When she was widowed, Luisa moved in with her friend Maria de Ella, who was Armenian, and when they went to the house in Villa Giardino they stayed for ten or fifteen days, and for him it was a feast. He cooked María and Luisa helped her: they made wrapped children, kepe, laben, hummus. He remembers the soup from his paternal grandmother. She says that she boiled everything together, the hard, the soft, put everything whole and at the same time. Today she, that she incorporated the technique, she does not understand how she did it, but she assures that she was very good. From her mother, she likes cannelloni, sauces with a lot of garlic, black olives, anchovies. She remembers it as a tasty kitchen. “These are things that remain in the memory.”

Matías Tesoriero at the door of Borravino, his restaurant.
Matías Tesoriero at the door of Borravino, his restaurant.Mariana Eliano