JOSE IGNAGIO: I met Paula Segura Mallmann, in high summer at lunchtime at Cruz del Sur in Jose Ignagio, Uruguay when it was at its peak with it regular and chic holiday house residents and the restaurant was busy…busy in a welcoming way, casual, relaxed, encouraging.
Families were there, some were eating alone, some in small groups and a gaggle of golden haired little boys, who’d been free wheeling all morning and had left their bikes piled at the gate, were sitting at a table reading menus, while waiting for their mothers to arrive.
We had passed the little vegetable store at the entrance of the restaurant which suggested the food inside was going to be simple, same day picked and, brimful with sunshine and ripeness.
I remember well, luminous flowers, zinnias and huge tassels of Amaranthus spilling out of vases everywhere, the abundant herb garden tucked in the back, the midday heat, the coolness on the shaded terrace.
With good company and the arrival of a linen wrapped ice bucket to our table, the first mouthful of a dry local rose, the promise of good things ahead, slid into lunchtime.
Three perfect menu stars, turned up. For both of us, a bowl of chilled gazpacho. Just enough tomatoey crush, just enough tomato nectar, enough whisper kick of spice enough hint of salsa on top and toasty crunch crumbs drowning….. slowly. Layers of flavours, none underwhelming, none overwhelming.
Like Goldilocks we smiled claiming each spoonful was ‘just right.”
We were then brought a platter of the freshest, creamiest, juiciest burrata ever, circled by chunky rustic tomatoes – yellow, red, green, orange, sliding in a dressed green salad leaves just begging for torn sourdough bread to mop it up.
Nothing could have been more simple, such bliss, than eating like this. Mixed red beets came next strewn with pine nuts, torn mint, hints of coriander and marigold petals in a sharpish vinegarette.
Everything we ate that day was fresh, imbued with honesty, from the land, local.
We drank more wine, there was more talk and Paula herself visited us at table, bringing coffee and a tiny slice of the day cake and our lunch interlude was done, but not the curiosity. That lingered long after the lunch.
Who is Paula Segura Mallmann?
What is her story ? What’s this place about?
I needed to talk to her and a bunch of questions led to this conversation.
How did Cruz del Sur begin?
Cruz del Sur began as a dream of having colourful organic and tasteful vegetables available in Jose Ignacio to cook with.
Uruguay has always had really good quality produce but vegetables were scarce, boring, lacking colour and new textures to get inspired. Also we wanted to have the freshest and healthiest food available for us!
One summer Emiliano Cordeiro, my husband and I together with our partners Tracey and David Smilow decided we had to start an organic farm to change this and that is how everything began. So, we had to learn how to grow vegetables first, a task we had no idea how we would complete…It felt like such a big challenge to start from zero and learn a new job and to leave the cooking and sommelierie aside (which was our comfort zone) for a while. But Emiliano and I were very determined and would not quit our dream. People would constantly tell how how crazy we were and how poor the soil was in our area… We are so happy we did not desist.
Our partners put us in touch with Amber Waves Farm in Long Island New York and we were so lucky to do an apprenticeship there. Now Amanda Merrow and Kathie Baldwin, the Amber Waves owners, are our friends and give us continual inspiration.
I must say farming is not easy and it is very difficult to adjust to the idea that you cannot control everything on a farm as you can do in a kitchen. You have to know that nature does what it has to do and sometimes there is a hail storm and you can loose everything you have worked so hard for…that was one of the most difficult lessons for me, knowing I could not control nature’s unpredictability…I had to just let go and trust natures wisdom.
When did this adventure begin?
Cruz del Sur Farm started in November 2015 and our farm to table restaurant opened in December 2018.
Why did you begin all this in Jose Ignagio?
I have always been in love with Jose Ignacio.
My uncle Francis started bringing us to this unique place since the 80’s (even my mom and dad got married here) and since I was a kid I secretly dreamed I would be able to live here all year long rather than Argentina. It is such a magical spot and also my grandmother Picho was Uruguayan. Life is so mysterious that I ended up doing private chef services here during the summer season and one thing led to the other.
How did your career in cooking begin?
My family has always been surrounded by food, especially my grandmother and she taught me the love for cooking, flowers and hospitality. I used to cook with her from when I was very little and then my uncle Francis has always been an inspiration for all of the family (and more !)But our vegetables inspire me mostly.
Cruz del Sur is strictly seasonal, how do you manage that?
Yes, it is very seasonal. How I wish it could be a year round operation. We open the farm in October and the restaurant in December for three months. So the Summer season is very short for us.
During our winter we usually travel the northern hemisphere to keep learning about farming, we need to learn so much more about cooking, fermenting, it never ends.
We to do some farm to table events away from home like this northern Summer when we are in Amber Waves in the USA . I cooked for a long time in Argentina in the past.
What is the vegetable kiosk at the front gate of the restaurant Cruz?
It is our farm stand for local holiday makers. We sell our own organic vegetables and a selection of local produce such as wine, cheeses, olive oil, honey, preserves all of which we use in our cooking and we sell our own homemade granola, vegetable preserves, marmalades, kimchee and tomato sauce.
Whats the base of and who writes your menus?
Usually Emi and I create the menu together based on what we like to eat and what is available at the Farm and locally.
How does the Vegan Paleo movement effect your menu writing?
We are very conscious about all the new eating tendencies but try to avoid extremes, we offer healthy food but we are also very focused on preserving taste, colours, textures and aromas!
How many staff do you have?
Last year we were 15 at the restaurant and 6 at the farm.
We bake our own bread and we bake everything we serve.
We have a pastry chef but all the recipes are ours. Our favourite cake this past summer the gluten free carrot cake, was our vedette.
If you didnt have CdS where would you like to be in the world :
Still in Jose Ignacio and being able to travel. We do holidays during our southern hemisphere winters and have been going to Italy in the past years.We visited Sardinia this year which we loved. We try to travel to places that inspire us .
Where are you yet to travel to and eat?
Morocco, Turkey and Greece
And which chefs would you like to meet /cook with?
Alex Atala, Gaston Acurio, Ottolenghi
What’s ahead for you?
Keeping Cruz del Sur an enjoyable and happy place for people to visit. For me aummer in Jose Ignacio is sunny, breezy, joyful and full of fires and starry nights to share with friend and loved ones.
Choose 3 words that describe you best?
Determined, perfectionist and always moving.
What could you be better at?
Being more patient.
Whats the best part of your working day?
I love picking flowers and making the flower arrangements for the restaurant and the events we organise.