BEIRUT: When Chef Jose Alfaro serves beef he doesn’t just use meat you find at the store. He cuts and serves the beef the Argentinean way, using every part of the cow. Alfaro uses the upper shoulder of the cow for churrasco, he uses the cut along the back of the cow for beef de chorizo, and he uses the meat in the lower haunches for brochettes. Pieces he can’t serve as a steak or in a main course he uses to make soups and sauces, because in Argentina you don’t just cut beef in quarters and sell it.
“In Argentina we use the whole cow, and you eat the whole cow,” declared the burly chef with tattooed forearms.
Alfaro is the head chef at La Estancia, an Argentinean restaurant in Gemmayzeh, where his South American dishes offer a different palette on the Beirut food scene.
Besides his Argentinean cuts of beef, Alfaro offers a variety of international cuisine, including a Peruvian ceviche, Argentine pork sausage and a traditional Argentinean vegetarian pasta, raviolon, usually only found in homes during the winter.
His dishes are different and sometimes unusual, but according to Alfaro he’s found a clientele in Beirut.
“It’s a hard crowd, it can be difficult to hit the Lebanese heart; they like to go out, they enjoy the nightlife,” he said.
Alfaro had been a bit of a journeymen on the culinary scene. He attended culinary school in California and then started work at a Sheraton hotel in Uruguay. He had only been on the job for three months when he got an email from his brother about a job for an Argentinean restaurant in Lebanon.
The restaurant hadn’t been built, he didn’t speak any Arabic and he had never been to the Middle East. But he jumped at the chance to help build a restaurant from the ground up.
Alfaro got to help design the Argentinean grill which sits adjacent from the kitchen in the dining area, he picked his own staff and found people he could work with even though they didn’t speak the same language. Most importantly, he chose his own menu.
The new chef chose dishes from his cultural heritage in South America as well as Asian-influenced items from his tutelage by a Japanese chef in the United States. He got to choose the cuts of meat he would use and the ingredients to be imported. One of his favorite parts was getting to create the dressings for his salads.
“I create dressings as I change my clothes, I love it, I love to play with dressings,” Alfaro said. His menu includes 16 kinds of dressings, strawberry, poppy seed and chili jalape?o among others.
Alfaro’s transition to Lebanon was a rocky one, he was unsure about the ingredients he could order, the staff he would work with and how his food would be received. But so far things have gone well for the chef, some people have been open to his different food and he’s built up a small following.
“Lebanese are more dancers than eaters,” Alfaro quipped.