The soul of the place is a counter, one of those large wooden pieces of furniture that smell of old Argentine commercial activities, perhaps a neighborhood delicatessen or a city general store where food is presented and customers are served face to face. , with the warmth of old friends. A simple counter, yes, but with the glamorous stamp of Manhattan.
The helmsman of this concept of simple, familiar, fresh and visible preparations is Fernando Trocathe Argentinian chef founder of the restaurant Sucre who left the country after the pandemic to become a global cook.
At 55, Trocca learned his arts with his grandmother Serafina and sustained his passion when he played cooking for his family and friends as a child. After passed through the kitchen of teachers such as Gato Dumas and Francis Mallmann and continued his education in Italy, France, Spain and the United States until he was in 2001 he opened Sucre, the flagship which would then catapult him into unexpected markets.
Fernando Trocca’s restaurants in the world
It’s just that the pandemic has turned Trocca’s life upside down: Locked up in his house for months and killing time with his cooking videos on Instagram, he decided to bet beyond Argentina and there was a huge explosion with his seal.
Within a few years, he partnered with investors to set up restaurants in London, Dubai and Miami and his own “Counter” –the new concept where the sideboard is the protagonist– It already has offices in Buenos Aires, Uruguay, London and Montauk, the city of New York’s exclusive Hamptons.
But now the cook goes more: tries to conquer Manhattan with a new headquarters in the Tribeca neighborhood, right next to Soho. There today he can be seen behind the counter serving diners, also serving vendors and chatting to customers who recognize him. He oversees every detail of the restaurant that opened a few weeks ago and is already full of customers.
In the middle of the midday hustle and bustle, among sweet pumpkin salads with tomatoes and caramelized onions; beets with pears, pecorino and balsamic or cabbage, anchovies and parmesan; Argentinian croissants and coconut flakes, Trocca received Clarín in its brand new office in New York.
-What is the concept of the place?
-A counter where the food is assembled at noon, where the food is placed in full view of the people and they choose the salad options and the proteins they will accompany them with. It’s a simple, fresh, natural and easy concept. But almost more important than the food is the pastries we produce. Here in New York we produce 22 daily varieties of cake shop.
-Why did you decide to open in Manhattan?
-Because it is one of the great capitals of the world, if not the number one in the world. It’s a big challenge. I lived here for three and a half years in 1997. The truth was, an opportunity presented itself and why not?
-As a global chef, how do you adapt to each place’s culture or customer?
-What we can offer in New York or London we can offer on the beach or in Buenos Aires. “Desk” is the most international, the one that has the least need to adapt. Instead Sucre in London and Dubai yes. In Dubai you have to adapt. There are things we don’t do, for example pork is not served, the menu is a bit more extensive.
-What differences do you find between working in Argentina and in other countries?
-I won’t talk about politics or situations, but there are many differences, there is no comparison. The restaurant is still a restaurant and we continue to provide food and services to people because we work in the hospitality industry, but every place has its advantages and disadvantages.
Argentina today is a difficult place to project, put together a project and think about the future. We know that we are a country that goes up and down and even if we are in a very particular moment in the world, this is what I do and it is what I like and I continue to do it by adapting to the world situation and the situation that each country has.
-How has the pandemic affected you personally and in your business?
-In business, bad, like everyone else. Indeed, we had a restaurant that was “Orilla” in Buenos Aires that we just closed. In the pandemic we had to adapt and disguise ourselves as we could and survive as we could. But after the pandemic it was very difficult and we ended up closing down.
-And in the rest of the world?
-In Miami “Orilla” survived and is doing very well. In London and Dubai we open post pandemic. I personally tried to make the best of a complicated and very difficult situation for everyone. I did many things to survive, but I was locked up like everyone else in Argentina, in my house.
Without thinking, I started making videos of a chicken salad recipe with some leftover chicken and something unexpected happened.
-We were with my girlfriend and my daughter at my house and I was in my pajamas, I hadn’t even changed. I made a salad with leftover chicken the night before and posted it on Instagram. People’s response was so amazing that I decided to make more videos.
That’s how I made 90 recipes every day, for 90 days. Every day I uploaded a recipe to Instagram and it helped me. And then it ended up in a book, “Trocca en casa”. I think that was the most important thing the pandemic gave me.
– In the pandemic you lived on your savings.
-Yup. I arrived in England to open Sucre with $2,000 in my bank account, that was all I had left.. It was in May of last year. I had literally spent everything I had. In a year I rearmed myself.
Do you reinvent yourself in crises?
-What happens if, We are Argentines, we reinvent ourselves in crises. We are specialists. Something happened that I never imagined in my life. We opened three restaurants in less than six months: one in London, one in Dubai and one in Buenos Aires. And I took out a book. In my plans there was only London, but during the pandemic it was a project that came out and didn’t come out. And ended up getting out of everything and more.
-You’ve had your time on television with your cooking shows. There is now a wave with MasterChef. What does TV bring to a chef, besides fame?
-It depends. They called me for MasterChef and I didn’t want to do it because I don’t feel comfortable playing a character on television. I’ve been doing television for many years because I’ve been lucky enough to do the shows I wanted to do, cooking shows.
But my career has never been about television. There may or may not have been television, but it wasn’t going to change my life. The best thing about television is when people give you back what you give them. When it’s a round trip. But I’ve been doing television for many years, it was always difficult for me because I’m not a person who feels comfortable in front of a camera.
-Are you rather shy?
-Yup. You must have a field to look at a camera, start talking and so much more in a MasterChef that is a show. It’s not a cooking show. You don’t cook. One is bad, another is good and you have to follow some guidelines. I wasn’t for that.
-How would you define a London diner, an Argentinian, an American? Do you have different needs?
-Argentinians and Uruguayans are very similar. We are brothers and there are no differences between us. The British and Americans have a lot in common. They are open, much more open than we are, although the Argentine public today is much more open to trying and eating.
We in Montauk, where we have the concept of “Counter”, are inside a hotel located on the beach and we have to maintain certain rules and permits: we cannot use dishes. We can only use disposable glasses, plates and cutlery, everything. And it’s a very expensive place. The only ones who criticize us for this are the Argentines. Americans don’t complain about a thing, they just line up, wait and pay.
-What are your criteria for choosing a city for a restaurant? Why didn’t you install one, for example, in Paris, the gastronomic capital of the world?
-Every place has a reason. The London and Dubai projects are not projects that I did by myself. I could never put these projects together just because of the investment they have, the development and the infrastructure. I worked for 8 years for a very large company in England which was Gaucho which were Argentinian restaurants with a non Argentinian owner.
He was someone I learned and continue to learn from. A person with an entrepreneurial vision that I don’t have. But he and I are a good complement. Dubai and London are projects I did with him. He lives in Dubai and has a very large company.
-How is the investment process?
-Mostrador London and New York came to us and not us to them. An opportunity for a restaurant within a hotel presented itself in London. They offered us to take that seat and do something about it. We thought the concept of Counter was very good to put it in that borough of London (Shoreditch).
The same thing happened in New York. Here was a very small restaurant. We know the owner of this hotel and now he is our partner at the counter. When the restaurant he was at left, he suggested they set up another one.
-The labor market, especially in the gastronomy sector, is complicated in the United States, where unemployment is very low. Difficult to find staff. Is it a problem for you? Does this happen to you in other places?
-But why do you think there are no personnel in Argentina, when there is a high unemployment rate?
That’s a great question that I can’t answer. Lack of trained people, there is little effort and I’m not talking about Argentina, but I’m talking about everyone. This is a problem that arose after the pandemic and is 100% global. And it’s happening in all industries. Vendors make deliveries difficult because they don’t have drivers to make deliveries.
-And in the gastronomic sector, where do you see the biggest problems?
For all. You can’t find waiters, you don’t have cooks, you don’t have pastry chefs. You start doing the interviews and they get to one and they never come to the other two. They start working one day and after a while they tell you they don’t want to work anymore and leave. It’s a very serious problem.
I think it has to do with everything that’s been going on, with the pandemic. Many people want to live differently and don’t want to make a lot of commitments. People who have decided to get away from big capitals and cities and want to have another lifestyle.
-How does a chef guarantee the future? Because it is very physical work, very personal and linked to economic ups and downs.
-I don’t build my future. I no longer think about the future. We have learned not to think about the future because the future does not exist. If we want to think about the future, tomorrow a pandemic will hit us and upset us. What the pandemic has sealed away for me is that we can’t plan too much. Today I enjoy my present.
Are you planning to expand further?
-Yes, of course everywhere.
-Would you bet again on Argentina?
-Not today because At my age, I no longer have any hope of seeing a change in Argentina. I hope one day it will come, I won’t see it.