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Book review: Estela by Ignacio Mattos

13 October 2018 by

Ignacio Mattos's downtown Manhattan restaurant Estela has a cult following among British chefs. James Lowe invited Mattos to cook at his Shoreditch restaurant Lyle's in 2017 and Matthew Young, formerly of Elroy and Mayfield's, is a fan. Before opening Estela in 2013, Uruguay-born Mattos worked for Judy Rodgers at Zuni Café and Alice Waters and David Tanis at Chez Panisse in San Francisco.

Mattos talks about his culinary travels that have allowed him to explore everything from Italy's cucina povera to modernist cooking in Spain; classical French cuisine to the Afro-Brazilian cooking of Bahia, Brazil. That global perspective is reflected in the ‘Estel Essentials' chapter, which lists Italian bottarga, south-east Asian fish sauce and Japanese furikake seasoning among Mattos's favoured pantry ingredients.

In less intuitive hands, such broad open-mindedness could result in fusion-confusion. Mattos, however, has an ace up his sleeve with his underlying ethos of "layering, tension and balance", which brings harmony through the considered and subtle use of vinegars, citric acids, spicy heat and savoury items, such as fish sauce or juiced green garlic that bring his dishes to a "happy place just at the borderline of too much".

It's an approach typified by a signature dish of sushi-grade fluke that's cured in sugar and salt, diced and mixed with olive oil and served with sea urchin roe, yuzu kosho (a paste of chillies fermented with yuzu juice and zest and salt) and white grapefruit zest. Other stand-outs from the collection of more than 133 recipes include lamb ribs with chermoula and honey; cured foie gras wrapped in grape leaves, grilled and served with chicken jus seasoned with soy and ponzu; and steak served with black sesame bearnaise and turnips.

Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes a book like Estela to prove you (delightfully) wrong. Mattos has a distinctive take on what can make up the menu of a "neighbourhood restaurant"; a viewpoint that will provide a wealth of inspiration to chefs, no matter what type of establishment they are cooking at.

Estela by Ignacio Mattos, Artisan, $35

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