Blood’s Thicker Than Water

Chef Matias Ayala was born and raised in Argentina, but he has Italian blood that runs deep in his vein.

You can’t choose the family and the country where you were born, but somehow the blood in your vein can guide you. Meet Matias Ayala, the new Executive Chef of Raffles Jakarta, an Argentinean chef who’s in love with Italian food. Here’s our exclusive interview with the man himself.

Please tell us briefly about your career and your current activities. 

I started professionally in the kitchen when I was just 18 years old. It was a small restaurant in Rosario, a city very close to my town, at same time I was doing my culinary studies. Soon my passion for food took me to the big city of Buenos Aires, where I lived for 7 years and I had the chance to work in the “Orient Express and the Park Hyatt” working with highly trained Chefs, and I really developed my skills there. During my time at Hyatt I had the chance to go on my first international culinary adventure, working in New Zealand.

My career took off and brought me to Dubai, where I had the chance to work at the only 7 star hotel in the world; Burj Al Arab. After that I moved as Chef de Cuisine for Hilton hotels, where I worked for 4 years and had the chance to work in a cluster of three hotels. This was an interesting time where I championed the opening of two restaurant outlets from the very beginning until the end while at the same time managing the operation of 10 more outlets.

Most recently I had been working as Executive Chef in the City Centre Rotana in Doha, where I was in charge of 6 F&B outlets and the banquet operation. This was a great challenge in my career, as this was a pre-opening Hotel, where I was totally involved in all strategies and driving Food & Beverage operations.

Currently I’m the Executive Chef in Raffles Jakarta where I overlook the several restaurants and the banqueting operation. It’s a really exciting challenge, as this is my first time in Asian and it’s very important for me to understand guest preference and taste.

Why did you choose to become a chef?
My father was the one that inspired me to start cooking. I used to help my father whenever he was cooking. My father really liked cooking and was always trying new things, so I started as his helper. I assisted with the various cooking techniques, and I liked it because the more I helped, the more I got to try different ingredients. This really sparked my interest, and I started to become passionate about food, and the satisfaction I got from seeing other people enjoying my food. Since that time, I knew it; I was going to become a Chef.

Tell me about your interest on Italian cuisine.

My grandfather is originally from Italy and as many other Argentinean, our families had Italian ascendance; so Italian food is our comfort food. I fell really identified with the Italian flavors, and I think what makes the Italian food so special compared to other cuisines is the use of simple ingredients cooked to the perfection offering simplicity, however with great flavors.

Who's your favorite Italian chef?

Well, it’s difficult to choose one because there are so many. However there are chefs that I follow, such as Massimo Bottura. I also follow several other non-Italian chefs who are doing Italian food as Heinz Beck, Ruth Roger, Rose Gray and Mario Batali.

What makes Italian food “Italian”? The spices? Cooking methods? Any specific ingredients?

I think what makes Italian food so special is the love that everyone’s making Italian food put in to the dish. When I think about Italian food, what immediately comes to my mind is a reunion of a family together or any other celebrations. It’s really much connected to family, good time and nice memories.

Have you ever been to Italy and tried the authentic food there?

I never been in Italy yet, however I had try really authentic Italian food, as I was lucky to work in several Italian restaurant ran by Italian chefs using Italian products. And in my opinion, any types of food taste better when they’re done with care and attention.

What's your favorite Italian food?
I really like good dry pasta, Italian cheese and of course the charcuterie (prosciutto, salami, culatello, etc). The reason is very simple, because they taste fantastic.

I believe Italian food is more than just pasta and pizza, please tell us your favourite Italian food that we never know.
I really like Ossobucco Milanese, it’s a mouth melting slow braised beef with tomatoes, carrot and onion and usually served with a saffron Risotto, just fantastic.

Tell us about Argentina, and of course, the traditional cuisine.
Argentina is a beautiful country located in the end part of South America, it’s a very diverse country, where you can enjoy all type of climate and geographies. For me, the most distinctive thing about Argentina is its geography, every province is very different one from another one, as example the north part is very dry and you can find beautiful dessert, the south is more a cold weather area, where you can enjoying skiing and hiking. The eastern part is very green with amazing rivers, and on the middle western part you can find excellent wine producers.

Argentina is a country to visit and enjoy, the peoples are very friendly and open to show and receive tourist well. The Argentinean food had big influence from different cultures, especially like in my case, from the Italian ascendance from our grand fathers.

We are enjoying very much meat barbecues, we call them Asado, this is basically slow roasted different type of meat, using wood charcoal, and empanadas, meat or vegetables pastries and to finish of course Flan con dulce de leche, our version of the French Cream caramel, served with a type of milk caramel.

Do you have any hobbies outside the kitchen?

Yes, really like to do sport, Triathlon in particular, and I’m very proud to said I had complete two full Ironman Triathlon distance and more than 6 full Marathon running race.

If the world ends tomorrow, and you have the chance to dine in any Italian restaurants in the world, where would it be?

I will really prefer to dine of course Italian food, however not in one Italian restaurant, better in a really casual place with my family and loved ones. I’m sure the food will taste much better

When I think about Italian food, what immediately comes to my mind is a reunion of a family together or any other celebrations. It’s really much connected to family, good time and nice memories.