NOLA Chef Dishes on Life as A Closed Door Restaurateur

Posted on July 12, 2013 by Vivi in CLOSED DOOR, EXPAT, RESTAURANTS

By Vivi Rathbone.

Liza in the kitchen NOLA Closed Door Restaurant Buenos Aires

Confession:  I am a fan.  I met Liza Puglia, of NOLA Chef fame through her blog, then Twitter, then Facebook, then real life.  First she was a chef, then a blogger, then the star of her own pop-up restaurant, then opened her closed door restaurant, and now is hosting craft beer nights.  Each new thing she creates is more incredible, and tasty than the last.

My last NOLA experience was attending her closed door restaurant, where she served an absolutely scrumptious meal to an intimate group, seated around a candle lit table.  The courses were avante-garde fused comfort food for the worldly, adventurous eater.  The service and presentation was gracious and inviting, and the wine pairings … well, the wine pairings were out of this world.  

Tablesetting at NOLA Closed Door Restaurant Buenos Aires

Crab and Gumbo NOLA Closed Door Restaurant Buenos Aires

I’m still dreaming about this The cut of pork is bondiola served with our pork with grits and chili ancho sauce:

Pork and Polenta NOLA Closed Door Restaurant Buenos Aires

And these sopapillas with ceviche:

Ceviche NOLA Closed Door Restaurant Buenos Aires

I needed to know everything.  And Liza agreed to tell me.

VIVI:  How did you develop the concept and menu for NOLA?  You have a great mix of super diverse culinary dishes fuzed together – mexican sopapillas with peruvian sushi, southern style pork and grits…I think it reflects your rich background of New Orleans home, cooking Mexican food in New York and traveling the world.  How does Buenos Aires tie it all together?

LIZA: I wanted to provide Buenos Aires with a taste of New Orleans culture – food + music + hospitality.  My upbringing in the Big Easy introduced me to Creole cuisine while my experience in the NYC restaurant scene taught me the flavors of Mexico.  Both areas have distinctful culinary backgrounds loud with flavor which is not something you find in Buenos Aires.  So I more or less infused the foods that I love and know the most.  BA plays a role in both local ingredients (chorizo colorado replacing andouille sausage) and technique (whole pigs on the parrilla).  

VIVI: I loved the feel-good homestyle dessert (INCREDIBLE), and I especially loved the beautiful kumquats incorporated into the dessert and the table setting.  You mentioned you gathered them yourself?  Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with the broader ‘culinary ecosystem’ in Argentina?  What do you think about Buenos Aires as a center for inventive/international cuisines and the ‘chef de autor’ movement?   

LIZA: We spend a good bit of time in Pilar where we have access to loads of fresh citrus.  We go lemon picking while digesting asado or hunt for mushrooms after a good rain.  I use a lot of citrus in the kitchen as a way to cut back on fat and salt intake so the more the merrier!  In my eyes BA has huge potential in the culinary scene as there is not much diversity and service seems to not be of great importance.

Mud Pie Martini NOLA Closed Door Restaurant Buenos Aires

VIVI: What would you like people to know about closed door restaurants?  This is a newer restuarant concept that still goes under the radar of mainstream diners.  Why should someone try one, what makes them special?

LIZA: Well I can only speak for my own, but our idea is to connect people through food.  It’s like going to a dinner party versus a restaurant but without knowing your fellow diners.  You’re sharing this moment in an unfamiliar environment which can be both mysterious and exciting.  It’s very entertaining to sit back and watch the connections being made.

VIVI: Why do you run a closed door and pop ups instead of going to work for one of the city’s great restaurants?  Tell me a little bit about your entrepreneurial side.  Any advice for other would-be entrepreneurs about the food/restaurant scene in Buenos Aires, or the challenges and opportunities that working in this city creates?  What do you like about running the whole show.

LIZA: There are many reasons, the main one being a work visa.  As an outsider it’s hard to find employment at a restaurant as most of them aren’t interested in sponsoring a line-cook.  I’ve worked in a professional kitchen and loved it but I’m ready to have something of my own.  You’re constantly having to negotiate when working with others, and as great as a learning experience as that may be it can be frustrating especially when others aren’t holding up their end of the deal.  I’d rather take on more responsibilities (and risks) without having to rely on anyone else.  Advice-  stay true to yourself and what you know.  Get organized, make small goals and make sure your staff is just as passionate as you are.  They’re representing your company, they’re just as important as your product.

VIVI: What are some of the challenges about running a closed door in BA?  What do you love about it?

LIZA: The biggest challenge is last minute cancellations.  We don’t accept walk-ins and if we can’t fill the spots we end up losing money from food costs.  The best is meeting people from all over the world and watching them connect over the food and wine.  They leave with the biggest smiles on their faces, it’s quite rewarding on our end.

VIVI: Where do you see NOLA going from here?  

LIZA: No idea where Nola will take us, which is part of the fun!  We do have a fabulous roof that I would love to turn into a wine, beer and tapa spot during the warm weather seasons.  Upcoming diners can expect mango gazpacho with pickled shrimp, chorizo & red bean empanadas, pork pot pie and homemade beer…..

Don’t miss NOLA.  New events include:

BROEDERS ARTESANAL BEER NIGHTS – Wednesdays at 9:30 – 200 Pesos

CASUAL WINTER FRIDAYS – 3 Course Dinner with communal / private tables – 150 Pesos

Check her out.

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