Ignacio Mattos’s downtown Manhattan restaurant Estela has a cult following among British chefs. James Lowe invited Mattos to cook at his Shoreditch restaurant Lyles in 2017 and Matthew Young, formerly of Elroy and Mayfield’s, is a fan. Before opening Estela in 2013, Uruguay-born Mattos worked for Judy Rodgers at Zuni Café and Alice Water and David Tanis at Chez Panisse in San Francisco. In the book’s introduction, he sites Francis Mallmann, the godfather of elemental open fire cooking, as his ‘main mentor’ and with whom he cooked outdoors in New York during a snowstorm and on top of a mountain in Mendoza.
In the brief introduction, Mattos talks about his culinary travels that have allowed him to explore everything from Italy’s cucina povera to modernist cooking in Spain; from classical French cuisine to the Afro-Brazilian cooking of Bahia, Brazil. That global perspective is reflected in the ‘Estel Essentials’ chapter that lists Italian bottarga, Southeast Asian fish sauce and Japanese furikake seasoning among Mattos’s favoured pantry ingredients.
In less intuitive hands, such broad open-mindedness could result in fusion-confusion. Mattos however has an ace up his sleeve with his underlying ethos of ‘layering, tension and balance’ that brings harmony to disparate elements through the considered and subtle use of vinegars, citric acids, spicy heat and savoury items such as fish sauce or juiced green garlic that bring his dishes to a ‘happy place just at the borderline of too much’.
It’s an approach typified by a signature dish of sushi-grade fluke that’s cured in sugar and salt, diced and mixed with Arbequina olive oil and mandarin olive oil and served with sea urchin roe, yuzu kosho (a paste of chillies fermented with yuzu juice and zest and salt) and white grapefruit zest. Other stand outs from the collection of more than 133 recipes include lamb ribs with chermoula and honey; cured foie gras wrapped in grape leaves, grilled and served with chicken jus seasoned with soy and ponzu, and steak served with black sesame bearnaise and turnips.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes a book like Estela to prove you (delightfully) wrong. Mattos has a particular and distinctive take on what can make up the menu of a ‘neighbourhood restaurant’, a viewpoint that will provide a wealth of inspiration to chefs no matter what type of establishment they are cooking in.
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
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