Growing up in Mexico City, Alfredo Pimienta, co-owner of Bridge Road Richmond’s newest addition El Atino & Co, a golden temple of worship for all things Latin American, nurtured a passion for food that has never left him.
When he and his Argentinian wife first moved to Melbourne 11 years ago, while they both fell in love with the city and its multicultural food scene, they felt there was a distinct lack of authentic fare from their own neck of the world.
Though the entrepreneurial Pimienta, who left a career in finance to pursue his dream, acknowledges that things have changed for the better in the last five years or so, with several interesting operators playing with Latin American flavours, he says there’s still a long way to go. El Atino & Co is his grand plan to share his passion with Melburnians.
“One of the things I loved about Melbourne when I moved here is the variety of cuisines that there are and I think I’m a better person now for having experienced that,” he says. “I’m happier just by knowing more ingredients, techniques and food from different regions. That enriches us, it’s part of the culture, and now the time is right to bring Latin American cuisine to Australia.”
The vast warehouse-like space, with polished floorboards, exposed brick walls and a canary yellow bar, accommodates a cafe, dubbed the Food Laboratory, and the EA&Co. Food Store food store, packed with the sort of ingredients adventurous punters can use to have a go at home, including chipotle chilies and chimichurri, in a mix of imported and house-made goods.
Pimienta was clear with design team Buro Architects that he didn’t want El Atino & Co to look overtly Latin American for a very specific reason. “We are all about Latin America, that’s the whole business, but we don’t have to put a costume on the place,” he says. “We’re all about the food speaking of Latin America. I don’t dress in traditional Mexican costume every day, I’m just like anyone else.”
Head Chef and co-owner Martin Zozaya is Argentinian, but the pair met 20 years ago when he was living in Mexico. Zozaya has experience working in restaurants from Buenos Aires to Barcelona, excelling at Peruvian, Argentinian and Mexican cuisine. “There’s nothing better than having a chef as a co-owner, somebody with the skill and experience that Martin has,” Pimienta says. “He’s happiest when he’s in the kitchen.”
El Atino & Co’s menu aims to bring the best of these regions into original lunches and breakfasts that introduce new flavours, techniques and ingredients to the mix, though there will still be scrambled eggs and bacon, served on Venezuelan flatbread, or arepas, of course.
One of Pimienta’s favourites is the 48-hour cured Pisco Sour salmon with steamed beetroot, feta, spring onion, pine nuts and pomegranate, but he can’t go past the five chillies prawn tacos. “They are the taste of Mexico, served with habanero chillis,” he says. “The salsa is very traditional, the Mayans used to use this, and Martin has put some pineapple on it to make it fresh, which goes extremely well. You cannot go wrong if you order a side of guacamole.”
Pimienta and the shop staff will be on hand with expert advice and there are also plans to run a cooking school towards the end of the year, with speciality dinners that might focus on a particular region, ingredient or celebrate a specific regional holiday on the cards too.
Above all else, Pimienta is just so happy to share the Latin love. “What Martin has done, which I think is really a step up from what people usually see during the day, is introducing many techniques in each of the dishes. It’s not pretentious food, it’s just about being exciting and utilising good ingredients, in some cases quite spicy.”
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Image credit: El Atino & Co