Diego Jacquet, chef-patron of Argentinian restaurant Zoilo, shares his thoughts on food

Words: Ellie Costigan
Images: Jade Nina Sarkhel, Allan Stone

1. I was born in Buenos Aires, but I moved with my parents to Patagonia, in the south of Argentina, and my heart is still split between the two places.

2. Like any other Argentinian kid, I was into football—all I wanted to do was to play professionally. But I had an accident when I was 14 and lost some vision in my left eye. It had quite an impact on my life, so I decided to study hotel management. I studied how to cook as part of that and asked Francis Mallmann, my teacher, if I could apprentice in his restaurant. The rush of the kitchen, everybody pushing—it was chaotic, but at the same time organised madness. I just fell in love with it.

3. At El Bulli, Ferran Adrià taught me how to push myself. After that I was not afraid to work 100 hours a week—we were working 18, 19 hours a day. I also worked with Nils Norén in New York, an amazing chef. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty, and he was better than anyone else: faster, cleaner, more skilful. That was a big lesson for me—the higher the position, the better you need to be. 

4. As the head chef and owner of Zoilo, I need to be ready to jump in at any moment. If the guy on the meat section isn’t doing well, I need to say, “Alright, step aside, just watch.” And that is going to send a message worth a thousand words, because everybody saw me at the pass and the respect is just there—they think okay, this guy has still got it, he can still cook!

5. When I was a young chef, it was not like today where you have the internet and you can click to get a cookbook, watch YouTube to see what happens in a Michelin-starred kitchen. Then, to get to know what the big chefs were doing you had to come to Europe. It was a long journey. It felt like the promised land.

6. Being an Argentinian restaurant means people come through the door with a preconception: a big piece of meat, rustic cooking, comfort food. What we are doing is much more balanced. Argentinian food is actually very diverse. It’s still a treasure to be discovered. We love meat, but we also have a coastline with beautiful fish. In Patagonia, we have amazing lamb, saffron, cheeses, wild boar, river trout. On the coast, we have scallops, langoustines, octopus. You go to the south you have crab, the north you’ll find melons, papayas. It’s intoxicating, the amount of produce.

7. Pizza is the most common street food in Argentina. You go to the stadium to watch a match—because of course we’re very passionate about football—afterwards, it is religion in Argentina that you get some beer and eat some pizza. The day is not complete without it.

8. We are driven by the seasons. There is nothing on the menu that is not seasonal. We start with the produce and then we see what we can do with it. I talk with the team about what we’ve done before and try the produce in a different way—puree it, grill it whole, put it in the dehydrator. It’s like composing music.

9. I don’t enjoy cooking at home. I need to be alone, I need space. At home, I don’t enjoy everyone in the kitchen talking, sharing and having a laugh—which is actually what it’s supposed to be about!

10. This year, I will run my fourth marathon. I am training now, and last year I didn’t do anything, so it is tough. I started running for fun, but my job is so physically demanding it has become a necessity. If I don’t run, I cannot perform as well in the kitchen.