The Pop-Up Pops Up in Buenos Aires

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Correction Appended

CASUAL parrillas, a glut of sushi and Peruvian restaurants and the occasional trendy boîte have dominated the Buenos Aires dining scene for much of the last decade. But these days, chefs are importing more than their cuisine. They have embraced a culinary trend that has become commonplace for up-and-comers in cities like London and New York: the pop-up.

In Buenos Aires, the dining events, some called puertas cerradas (closed doors), are promoted mainly through word of mouth, social networks or bare-bones Web sites that are short on details. Patrons must e-mail a request to dine and await a confirmation that includes a time and physical address.

The concept isn't the only thing that chefs are borrowing from elsewhere. Most have worked in the United States or Europe and have been applying skills acquired there back at home, according to Alicia Delgado, a longtime restaurant critic for La Nación newspaper.

One pop-up that has already gained a following was created this year by a group of a dozen chefs who call themselves GAJO, which stands for Gastronomia Argentina Joven, or Young Argentine Gastronomy (info@gajococina.com.ar). "Our group of chefs -- each has a different style of cooking but the same spirit in that we are focused on using the most local and seasonal products we can find in our cuisine," said Antonio Soriano, 37, who ran the kitchen at Chez Nous at Algodon Mansion in Buenos Aires after stints at Le Cinq and other restaurants in Paris. "So we thought it would be fun to come together to cook meals for the general public."

Every other month, the GAJO chefs have a themed dinner, with six courses prepared by pairs who team up after drawing names from a hat. Their first one last June, held at the upscale Argentine restaurant Unik, drew 80 guests, with a waiting list that was equally long. The theme -- asado, or Argentine barbecue -- was evident in the menu: Argentine Kobe beef in a juniper sauce and a farm egg with soggy rice and smoked ribs. The cost was 500 pesos, about $107 at 4.65 Argentine pesos to the dollar, which included local wine. Their next dinner, in late August, was at Chila, a restaurant in the Puerto Madero neighborhood. Here, the theme was to cook only with ingredients from Argentina without repeating a single product. The result was dishes like quinoa, peanut granola and a bread crumb egg with asparagus and Patagonian shrimp. Both meals drew an appreciative young crowd of locals and a few tourists.

Another collaboration, named the Clubhouse Chef Series (clubhouse@oasiscollections.com), is more a supper club than pop-up restaurant. Twice a month, the chefs take turns presenting meals at the private club Oasis. Their dinner in July featured Rodrigo Castilla, known for his Nuevo Argentine cuisine, and Gonzalo Aramburu, who specializes in molecular gastronomy. The two prepared corn and oyster soup and trout marinated in beets and served with a quail egg, among other dishes, for a crowd of 35; from 90 pesos a diner.

Not all of the puertas cerradas, or pop-ups, are group efforts. Diego Feliz, 38, offers dinners (colectivofelix.com) twice a month at rotating spots, including Oasis, and also a few times a week in his backyard garden in the city's Chacarita district. He usually accepts about 15 diners who pay 210 pesos for five vegetarian- and fish-focused courses like grilled manioc root cake with roasted tomatoes in peanut sauce or Andean stew with grouper. "I want to showcase the best of South American flavors but emphasizing seafood and produce," he said. His interest in the cuisine, unusual in a country where meat tends to be the star, comes from his nutritionist mother and from jobs at vegetarian restaurants in California like Millennium in San Francisco.

Regardless of the cuisine, chefs say the goal is to prove that their city is a serious food destination. "We want to show that you don't have to go to New York City or Paris for an amazing culinary experience," said Yago Márquez, 28, a GAJO member and sous chef at Unik. "You can have it right in Buenos Aires."

Correction: November 16, 2012, Friday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the barrio where Diego Feliz sometimes offers dinners in his backyard garden. It is Chacarita, not Characrita.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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