Wandering Chef: Caitlin Freeman in Uruguay

Where to eat in Uruguay, according to a chef.

A man in Central Market in Montevideo, Uruguay roasting a variety of meats on a large grill. He is wearing a baseball cap and black t-shirt and has his back turned to the photographer. There is a large metal contraption with a fire in it out of focus in the background.

Sample roasted meat at the Central Market in Montevideo, Uruguay.

abriendomundo / Shutterstock

Caitlin Freeman, the pastry chef of San Francisco’s Blue Bottle Coffee, and her husband James Freeman, the CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee recently made their first trip to South America. Here, Caitlin shares highlights from their first stop: Uruguay.

José Ignacio

“José Ignacio is a tiny village on the Southern coast of Uruguay. Almost inconceivably, it has become the go-to Christmas vacation spot for the insanely beautiful and famous. We heard tales of the six weeks from late December to mid-January being a gridlock of Porsches and Ferraris, everyone vying for parking in a very barely paved little town that has a year-round population of about 50. We were there in early November, still a few weeks from the “high season,” but close enough that you could really see why the richest of the rich choose to spend their holidays in this tiny town. The weather was gorgeous, the beaches pristine, and the sky the biggest and most vivid blue I have ever seen. We, however, were there to eat meat—a lot of meat.”

La Olada

“Walking into La Olada was like walking into the Twilight Zone. The space was lit only by candles, the glowing fire in the kitchen, and the fire ablaze in the stove in the dining area. It took us a few minutes to piece together why the room felt so familiar: walls created by stacks of wood for the fireplaces, taps coming out of the wall, garden hose-style, positioned over a rock bowl as a sink, and rustic, beautiful food cooked in a wood oven. It looked to be the primitive and authentic template for the polished and gorgeous new Brooklyn restaurant, Isa. Our appetizer was my favorite part of the meal: a large fleshy pumpkin sliced in half and baked in the fire until tender. Topped with herbs and some fresh soft cow’s milk cheese, it was perfect for the chilly evening.”

Francis Mallmann at Hotel & Restaurant Garzón

“A few years ago, we built a clay oven in our backyard in San Francisco. During the summer months, we usually fire up the oven a few times a month. Seven Fires, Francis Mallmann’s book about cooking with fire, has been our guide to learning how to cook in our oven. So, imagine our delight when we learned that as part of the Punta del Este Food & Wine Festival, Francis Mallmann would be bringing all seven fires to life in his “planned community,” Pueblo Garzón, just 20 miles from our home base in Jose Ignacio.

A few years back Mallmann, a famous Argentine chef, opened a restaurant and hotel in this sleepy village. Now his wood-fired cooking have made it a destination for foodies. We magically found last-minute tickets to the festival and on our second day of the trip, we attended two meat-tastic events in one day and got to watch lambs cooked el asador (above), as well as ribeye, chicken and salt-crusted fish cooked on the parrilla (grill).”

Estancio Belcampo

“When you hear about Uruguayan cuisine, you most often hear about meat cooked over fire. The feast of the seven fires was a great overview to the world of open-fire cooking, but to get the full, traditional experience, we headed to Estancia Belcampo, an idyllic farm located about 15 miles from the village of Garzón. An asado is both a style of cooking (meat over fire in many delicious ways) and a social event (roughly three courses stretched out over a few hours). Belcampo is an ambitious project encompassing a farm, restaurants, and lodge and market in and around the José Ignacio area. The event we attended was a preamble to the farm-restaurant opening next year, and a sneak peak of the asados that will be available to farm guests. I arrived at the stables in jeans, boots, and a gaucho hat that I was somehow convinced to wear. I was offered the traditional gaucho pants (bombachas), which offer lots of room in the “seat,” making for an extra comfortable ride but, I declined, feeling like hammer pants just weren’t my best look. Comfort wasn’t so much of an issue; the traditional saddles are swaddled in sheepskin and were about the most comfortable ride I’ve ever had. Three of the gauchos, who are responsible for wrangling the pasture-raised cattle daily, led us on a tour of the farm, showing us all of the newest olive orchards and wine grapes that had been planted for their olive oil and wine projects. It was breathtaking.

“After more than three hours we ambled upon a rocky little oasis smelling of wood smoke and meat. As we dismounted, we were handed plates of chorizo, sweetbreads and blood sausage, and frosty caipirinhas. The chorizo, especially, was incredible. Caramelized and sweet from the fire, I had to exercise all of my willpower to stop snacking. Candles and cooking fires led us down to the dining area, a huge square table to seat 12, where chef Santiago Garat Urioste would serve us three more courses. The first was a beef rib-eye and rump cap with chimichurri. The next course was a grilled leg of lamb with farm-grown vegetables. For dessert, we had dulce de leche with wine roasted fruit that had been harvested from the gardens. As the sun continued to set as we sat around the campfire I realized that I was on a total City Slickers-style adventure.”

>> Next: This Small Uruguayan Town Is the Next Marfa

Jen grew up in Pt. Pleasant, NJ (yes, the Shore), escaped to school in Boston, and fell in love with travel when she went abroad to study in Australia. After nearly ten years of eating and drinking herself silly in NYC, she finally reached the west coast. Things that makes her happy: the ocean, books, mountains, bikes, friends, good beer, ice cream, unplanned adventures, football, live music.
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