Asado Alfresco

Posted online: July 2013

Rodrigo Gimenez’s Argentinean-style barbecue
sets the tone for simple summer soirees

Written and photographed by ROB DAFOE

Beef short rib with grilled tomato and potato Arzak (a dish created by Spanish chef Juan Mari Arzak).

Americans have a passion for barbecue that seems unequaled. Summer in Santa Barbara is the wafting lure of oak burning under a fine grill punctuated by the sweet ocean air. Over such a grill stands Rodrigo Gimenez, a man whose passion for asado (barbecue) and his particular style of Argentinean-fusion cooking remind us that the way of the grill and culinary arts—though they thrive here—were not born in America. “Social life started around the fire,” says the self-professed cocinero (cook)—not chef—who learned his craft organically through passion, travel, and adventure. “And social life around a fire is still central today.”

Rodrigo Gimenez in his element.

Hailing from Mendoza, Argentina, Rodrigo’s early life was spent immersed in the basic but fresh cooking of his mother and defined by the minimalist barbecue style of the gauchos and other asadores (barbecue cooks) of his homeland. At this time, design and architecture were his focus, and it wasn’t until his first forays outside of Argentina that Rodrigo started to compare (and formulate his passion for) cooking that would inform him to this day. First it was Peru with friends at 21, then to Mexico City for an architectural study abroad program, then to Italy at age 26, living in Genoa to study architecture and Milan to work for Chapman Taylor. Three years later, he landed in Connecticut to work with Cesar Pelli Architects, the designers of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. It was there over an espresso machine in the break room that he met his wife, Alayna. Eventually, the two moved to Switzerland so Rodrigo could study business and economics. With each move, he devoured the country’s culture through its cuisine.

Mostly though, it was an epiphany of Italian food and lifestyle that influenced him—“sharing and enjoying the process of cooking as much as the food itself,” he says—and put a stamp on his cooking. Dishes like trofie and pesto Genoves, cappon magro (an elaborate seafood and vegetable salad), and bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine-style steak) were staples enjoyed with friends daily or often on weekend food excursions to nearby towns to “discover, enjoy and live,” he says.

After nine years and a lifetime of exposure to European cooking, Rodrigo found himself back in Argentina and diving into a pool of Malbec wines and the best of grass-fed meats. In Argentina, cows outnumber people 2.5 to 1, and back in the day, free-range cattle grazing on the pampa were not uncommon. Historically, even gauchos were allowed to take an animal if they found it on the loose. Because gauchos were nomadic types, they had no real kitchens and refrigeration—an open-pit barbecue and slow roasting unique cuts of meat was standard. This concept is central to Argentinian cooking—simplicity rules the style, and freshness is the hallmark.

After two years at home and a baby on the way, the couple decided to move to Alayna’s hometown of Santa Barbara last year, leaving behind not only his job but ultimately their whole life. Serendipitously, while waiting for his permanent visa and inspired by new opportunities and experiences, Rodrigo started cooking and hasn’t stopped since. Within just a year, his Euro/Argentinian style has fused with our American love of the grill, making his cooking a newfound favorite among our local food and wine community. As with most things, Rodrigo embraces this wholeheartedly: “Mendoza is where I grew up, surrounded by vineyards and asados. Italy is where my love for food was nurtured. But Santa Barbara is the paradise where I am able to combine all these experiences together.”


Naranjas Cuadradas Asadas con Salsa Ligera

13 oranges | 1 lemon | 2 c. plain greek yogurt | 1/2 c. dulce de leche | 2 tbsp. mint leaves, finely chopped | 2 tbsp. orange zest (optional) | 2 tbsp. lemon zest (optional)

Prepare 12 oranges by cutting skins and sides to create squares. Place oranges on medium-hot grill. Flip oranges once the first side has caramelized to a deep brown color (approximately 10 minutes). Remove oranges from grill once second side has caramelized. If using zest, while peeled oranges are grilling, place remaining unpeeled orange and one unpeeled lemon on grill over cooler but still warm embers. Rotate frequently so as not to brown the skin. Remove after about 15 minutes. Zest the roasted orange and lemon and set zest aside for garnish. Squeeze juices from the roasted fruit into yogurt and mix in dulce de leche. Drizzle sauce over grilled oranges, garnish with zest and mint leaves, and serve warm. Serves six.


[Read more in the latest issue of SB Mag, Summer 2013]

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