In Borneo, Isabel Gilbert Palmer discovered Argentine chef Sabine Caubarrere who after her culinary studies in Buenos Aires Culinary Arts and Business Administration at IAG (Instituto Argentino de Gastronomía) and the UADE (Universidad Argentina de la Empresa) and before her current project in Uruguay travelled and worked in Spain.
How was Spain?
I stayed there for 6 months, 1 month and a half in Valladolid, where together with 11 other international students I studied at Escuela Internacional de Valladolid Fernando Perez while training in some typical restaurants in the city. Then we all got separated for three months training in fine dining restaurants. The restaurant I went to was Casa Solla in Pontevedra-Galicia which had a Michelin star and then later in France at Mirazur in Menton and the last months of In de Wulf with Kobe Desramaults until he closed the restaurant.
And how did you find your way to Dranouter ?
I was accepted for a 3 month training at Mirazur, in 2016 and even though I liked being there I didn’t love it. A friend visited me in Menton and told me about Kobe and In De Wulf and I knew instantly that this was where I wanted to be. I sent Kobe my CV and held my breath. He replied yes and I cancelled my last month at Mirazur and was on my way.
What did you find there?
Exactly what I was looking for. Simplicity, the feeling and connection with the produce and products that Kobe inspired me and everyone in the kitchen with. He had come back from Russia with a selection of seasonal and odd products and we watched him rise to the challenge of what to do with them. It was the beginning of his smoking hay process which marked a new level in cuisine and presentation.
What did you take back with you from Kobe when your time there was over?
I was able to learn a new approach to cooking and to working. I discovered fermentation there which now has become the new global normal, different methods of working with meat which is an intrinsic fundamental statement of the Argentinian kitchen. I also discovered the team’s love for pizza making. I really have a love for bread baking and pastisserie so working on that station and being able to experiment was great.
It is a pity you left Belgium before he established Superette in Gent then and now his Chambre Separee?
Yes but I will return. I must confess I still have a good collection of recipies from my time there which I am saving until I am in the right place to use them.
What are they?
Special dinners and events which Kobe did so wonderfully.
Looking back, where did your interest in cooking begin?
Definitely from my family. There is strong connection with Italy in Argentinian history so pasta is very much in our country’s tradition and it seems I was helping to prepare and serve it at 4. My parents were always gardeners, in fact my mother and sister are now professional garden designers so growing up with our own food and eating it was what we did. It was normal, it wasn’t a trend. Both parents have been the most influential in my attitudes to food. My mother was a very imaginative cook and apart from fresh produce always used spices, ginger, chili, coriander, lemons so I grew up with eclectic taste experiences and I love to cook, add and eat with these now .
In Borneo you seem to be continuing your baking phase or is this where you really feel comfortable and challenged ?
Actually I would say yes to both questions! I like baking, I feel comfortable and yet challenged. I would love to continue to work in depth even longer, either to train or to work in a proper bakery, learning how to handle sourdough in a much complex matter such as bigger scales and treatments as well as learning in a French bakery. Chad Robertson from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco is my main mentor, I love his work. But closer to home, Salvaje Bakery in Buenos Aires is amazing.
How wedded are you to dulce de leche in your baking ?
I am not actually that wedded at all. I don’t have the typical Uruguayan sweet tooth. I only use dulce de leche for one item in Borneo – Alfajores. This is a ubiquitous cookie here. Its a round sweet sandwich, with three or maybe four layers made with two flaky baked doughs and in between it has a creamy filling, such as lemon curd; but traditionally dulce de leche (“caramel”) is used. It can be coated with chocolate.
One can buy them in all food stores, there are so many commercial brands and qualities. They are a favourite school kids snack. Home bakers make alfajores and sell them at the beach stalls for summer visitors as street food .
What is the impact of what you are baking in Borneo as you seem to be offering very different things?
In my humble opinion, I believe I give Borneo a healthier and wider option to what one finds in traditional coffee places. I’ve expanded the variety, with vegan, gluten free / dairy free / sugar free / raw options as well as products with alternative flours and sugars – rye, organic fresh milled flour, almond or coconut flour, honey, agave. I’ve lowered the sugar quantities to all original Borneo’s pastry recipes as well as eliminating the ones I thought there was too much sugar (huge Oreo alfajores and a dulce de leche cheesecake for instance.)
I’ve included sourdough bread making, (my sourdough mother has been going for a year and 6 months!) for sourdough bread toasts, avocado toasts, sourdough focaccia sandwiches for lunch. I am enjoying making Borneo a place to buy fresh baked bread too .
What are you experimenting with ?
Because of our intense summer work I have not had much time for hadn’t but have been mainly working with sourdough, adding sourdough in my daily pastry recipes as an extra touch.. then progressing with techniques and different use of organic flours; as well as replacing the “white” ingredients for healthier ones, I am getting immediate positive feedback from Borneo’s customers.
During winter times, when the summer madness is over, I have more time for experimentation.
And then my lunch options include fresh pasta dishes, soups, stews or curries. My latest love is working with Pho, Vietnamese and Thai. There is a wide variety of options for people to have their favourite or try for the first time something and that’s what I love about the freedom of working at Borneo. It is satisfying creatively because we are part of the international interest and food movement.
Some people say that Argentina and Uruguay are 15 years behind trends and movements in Europe and the USA, this maybe so !
My dawning interest is to go back to the authentic origins of food. TO look at where food items come from such as chili, spices and corn, vegetables, mole in Mexico, fish, seaweed, soy sauce from Japan, and so on.
What is your view on the current ‘isms’ paleo, vegan gluten free and what impact does that have on your baking ?
I believe that these come from nomadic times and are now being renamed. They’ve become trends. This movement merges simultaneously with a huge need for people to feed themselves in a better and or healthier way .
I think there isn’t much information as to to what the effect in the long term is of eating such diets but the world is changing, there is more food information, more processed and industrialised easy commodity foods. We need to be informed, adapt and be creative.
What are you planning to do next in your baking, cooking and travelling lifestyle?
I am planning to move to Mexico to Oxaca for a couple of months and work there. Then I will make my way to the States, to California to visit their beautiful bakeries and then hopefully return to Europe and find my way to Kobe Desramaults in Gent.