Today is the day, we finally get a crack at cooking. Argentina is loaded with massive open fire parrillas, pizza ovens and all manner of old fashioned cooking stations that belong to a time gone by yet inspire any modern cook to salivating excitement. At La Constancia there is yet another display of offensive cooking magnitude in a setting that simply couldn’t be beaten. The setup is outdoors under large shade trees, we have mountains rearing up in front and commanding views over the plains behind, the sound of the adjacent stream just finishes the picture, awesome. The whole cooking station is nearly ten metres wide, a massive home made pizza oven leads into a sea of hot coals under a huge array of grills, pots, iron discs and god knows whatever else. This is rustic cooking made glamorous; or is it glamour made into a cooking station?
Sadly though we only don the proverbial aprons at midday, first up it’s time for fly fishing, passing time in a manner that many people travel specifically to do. Life is indeed tough. Barnaby snares the biggest trout to date and we both also catch one, our catches are the lucky ones and they are set free to be caught another day. We wander up and down the stream dropping the fly into pools as we go, the line between fishing and simply enjoying the scenery becomes decidedly blurred. Thoroughly satisfied with finally snagging a catch each we wander back through this thoroughly uplifting environment back to cooking mecca.
Lumped together with a great Argentinian family we spark up a hilarious staccato conversation that rumbles along surprisingly well; liberal splashes of wine don’t hurt the mood either. Barnaby is set to buttering up and stuffing the trout with herbs and lemon, three good catches in all. Charlie is rolling out the bread dough that will be baked right here in the massive pizza oven. This leaves me to the ocean of apparatus crowning over the hot coals to rule as my domain while Laf sips wine and feigns to look pretty, contributing sweet little other than comedy as is usual. To be fair Danny the cook is driving most of the show so we’re not inventing the cooking today. Instead we’re simply launched into an experience we’ve been eyeing off since being in Argentina not unlike the huge lumps of pork launched into the iron disc. A mountain of onion slowly caramelises as we throw in plums and dark beer. When Danny isn’t looking I sneak in some anchovies and thyme, no chance of keeping me out of the creative process.
The conversation rolls along better than the language barrier would suggest is possible, Laf giggles, the bread is in the oven and the trout are grilling; the team is into gear and we’re literally cooking. Except for Laf of course, he’s taking social duties. First up we open our foil parcels of trout goodness and taste the most juicy delicious trout flesh ever, only hours from being caught. It’s possibly the setting and the atmosphere contributing but the fish are worthy of the setting, a huge statement. It’s a sensory race to lap up the sights, sounds, atmosphere, wine and food simultaneously, too much to take in at once so we’re all pigs at the trough of gorgeousness. Fittingly all the little piggies tuck into the pork, the anchovies and thyme definitely did the trick and Danny is still none the wiser.
After the lunch that has been this whole trip in the making Charlie and I sneak off for an hours little siesta, the glutton-athon is soon to be followed by a trip down the hill to a local winery for a wine tasting. A glutton-athon-anon it seems. As is the norm in Argentina we’re back on the wine quick sticks after our siesta and heading down the hill. First impressions of this winery: this part of Argentina does glamorous country living exceptionally well. This place is all tasteful rustic dream escape, not a scrap of building or surrounds belongs in the last 50 years, and it’s not at all kitsch. Walking among the vines and through the guesthouse it’s impossible not to be swept away in a little bit of ‘if I lived here’ fantasy. Charlie pinches himself struggling to believe that this is where we are, it’s all a little too perfect.
Around a small table we go through the official four bottles for tasting to the setting sun before buying another two; and then three more to take up the hill for dinner. If lunchtime was our own version of Masterchef then the cooks are enjoying a drop after a tough service. The winemaker Nico produces just 16,000 bottles of wine, a seriously boutique operation with hopes of escalating to the still boutique mark of 20,000. He nervously pours his shiraz to the Australian audience apologising only for it to be quite decent; very young but not a badly made wine at all. For all money we’re nine friends around a small table in a setting to die for, the idea of being a tourist seems crass and misplaced here, hospitality remains a strong Argentinian trait thus far and we rush to the welcoming embrace.
Hospitality does come at a cost though, we farewell Nico and stumble back to the cars in anything but straight lines. Not surprisingly after ten hours of measured but consistent wine drinking we’re all in fine fettle. Charlie and I are in the car with our new Argentinian mates watching Laf dance in the back of the ute in front of us like a drag queen in Mardi Gras. Learning how to call Laf a bitch in Spanish we hurl good unatured abuse to receive a bare bum in return; alcohol is to blame. Upon arrival our friends have also learnt some English, ‘Laf, you’re the queen of La Constancia’ in perfectly accented english is the cry. Alcohol is still to blame.
The three bottles we brought up the hill don’t last particularly long among six and it’s Anglo-Spanish charades in the sitting room to finish off the evening. On a journey that started with civilised fishing and soon kicked into a culinary bonanza we set off to bed with twelve hours of drinking up both wine and lifestyle. At lunchtime we were Masterchefs in the popular sense but in truth this whole day has been a masterful concoction. For an hour or two we created food but for much longer we balanced the elements of friends, laughs, culture, romance, new experiences and gluttony. In this more complete sense I can declare without ego that we indeed are Masterchefs. Our creation of an Argentinian delicacy has the critics raving and shan’t be forgotten anytime soon. Salud.