Is ordering delivery to the office your idea of going locavore? Do your culinary travels consist of drive-thru windows after a long day of work? If yes, then we invite you to put down the plastic fork and check out this different kind of job: meet Diego Felix, nomad chef.
I had first learned of Diego Felix (center left, with members of his collective) from Travel + Leisure, when we listed his Buenos Aires restaurant-home, Casa Felix, in an article about the world’s best secret dining clubs. What I didn’t know was that he also runs Colectivo Felix. For part of the year, this intimate group of family and friends leaves Casa Felix to travel the world creating prix-fixe meals for private supper clubs. At each destination, Diego seeks out the local and seasonal foods of the region. Working with farmer’s markets, fishermen, foragers, and even vineyards, he conjures up a unique flavor that combines the area’s locavore cuisine with his Argentinian roots.
This past Saturday, I attended one of his dinners in the beautifully renovated brownstone home of an architect, on a stoop-hewn street in Brooklyn. The decor was Mad Men meets Banksy. The people were designers, writers, and all things Brooklyn 2011. We had the region down, Diego’s farm-to-table meal to match. A rich humita empanada made with seasonal summer squash, roasted corn from Long Island, and Vermont smoked gouda? A sweet and tangy dessert using organic strawberries and fresh-picked chamomile? I had to learn more:
Q: How did your interest in cooking begin?
A: I have always been interested in food and how we feed ourselves. I owe this to my mother who is a pharmacists/macrobiotic nutritionist in Buenos Aires and raised me eating healthily. I took interest in cooking when I was 27 years old, after having traveled and lived throughout Latin America. I decided to give myself some time in Buenos Aires and cooking gave me the space that I was looking for where I could continue being creative.
Q: When did you start traveling the world cooking meals?
A: We started with the idea of a cooking tour four years ago. A guest at Casa Felix suggested that I put together a dinner for friends in New York City and it seemed to me like an excellent idea - continue traveling while learning about markets, people, and local produce.
Q: Has there ever been a challenging locale?
A: We always find something interesting in the places we visit. In Toronto we connected with people that were wild foragers and cooked with cattail hearts (reeds from a lake). So, we are discovering local flavors that people of the area sometimes don’t know.
Q: You have everyone sign a guestbook at the end of each meal. What is one of your favorite entries?
A: Once, someone wrote me that the scent of the peppermint from Córdoba in my cooking made her yearn for that same region where she had grown up.
Q: What’s next on the itinerary?
A: Today I depart for San Juan, Puerto Rico for fifteen days. We have invitations to Mendoza (Argentina), Chile, Australia and more of the USA. For now, we are just going to see what the future holds. We have a six-month-old baby, so now the collective takes on another dimension.
Joe Harper is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure.