I landed Tuesday morning of Cinco de Mayo in Montevideo. US potato board was nice enough to get me a business class ticket, which made the trip considerably more enjoyable. Completely reclining seats, an entertainment center that plugs into the main console and comes with all kinds of entertainment options. Sarah Mahler the head marketing person for the board found me at the gate. She was considerably younger than I had imagined. Her flight the previous day from DFW to Miami was delayed and she had to spend the whole day in Miami and was consequently booked on my flight. Serendipitously, her seat was right next to mine.
We were able to chat about the upcoming conference and each others background. She is originally from Idaho and no it is not a prerequisite to work for the potato board. The flight was 9 hours long and after watching the latest Woody Allen movie about two young ladies (one is the sexy Scarlet Johannsen) who spend a year in Barcelona, I fell mostly asleep.
It was overcast this morning in Montevideo and all the airport employees wore masks to protect from swine flu. We had to fill a barrage of forms and one was a statement that we were in good health. Then we caught a cab outside this small airport to our hotel. The road took us along the coastline and I was immediately struck with how neat and tidy the houses looked and how generally clean and modern the city feels. You do not get the feeling you are in a third world country.
I check into my room and then decide to do what I always do in a new city, scout it out by walking. I do not like to follow a map. The Sheraton is a tall building connected to a shopping mall and very visible. I went through the mall and noticed it was like any American mall and walked outside only to stumble across a McDonalds. I navigated to what appeared as an area with more activity and strolled into an open air market. The cars people drive are small European cars (peugeots, opels and volkswagens) and the trash is picked up by people driving horse drawn wagons brimming with huge trash filled bags.
I notice there is plenty of produce to work with and have a much better idea of what the typical Uruguayan has access to. I walk for another couple of miles and find I am a little lost. I finally see the ocean and venture back in the direction of the hotel. I stumble across another open air market and then notice the hotel tower.
I go back to my room to sleep off some jet lag. Three hours later, I am more refreshed and I head down to meet with the hotel Chef Roberto Tourn. He is very nice and we go over the following day´s demo. He has all I need and gives me a tour of his kitchen. The place is not built for tall people, so I will need to watch my head. It is also very small and under equipped for the type of facility.
I connect up with Sarah and the rest of the crew brought down to represent the board. Saul Mercado is from Mexico and the most connected with the interested parties here in Uruguay and Peter Joyce is the potato expert from Madison Wisconsin. There are some people here from the US embassy in Argentina and a marketer for the USDA in Argentina as well. There is a potato seed farmer, Steve Whited, from Maine. A father (José) and son (Nico) farming and potato seed salesmen team from Uruguay are our hosts.
They take us out to dinner at a Parilla called Balantines like the scotch. A parilla is a large grill set atop burning wood. The Uruguayans as well as the Argentines are big fans of this style of cooking. We are in beef country and not industrial feedlot beef, but pure grassfed beef. Saul informed me they are raising mostly Hereford and Angus.
They served us grilled provolone for starters. Then came the beef. I had bife de chorizo, which is strip loin. I had beef every single day in Uruguay, and only on one occasion was it really served close to medium rare. I had this experience in Argentina back in 1988. They either love to overcook their meat or maybe they are following USDA recommended doneness temperatures. The beef comes with potatoes done in one of several ways. Puréed, fried or parisienned which in Uruguay is potato purée rolled into melon ball size,breaded and deep fried.
Traditionally the Uruguayans and by extension the Argentines will visit the salad bar ahead of the main course. The salad bar has a large selection of dishes. Anything from beet salad to carrots or eggs. A good thing because there is little included with your beef dish.
We had Don Pascual tannat and pinot noir wine. The tannat is the local grape and it orginates from the Madiran region in SW France. It is a very inky and tannic red varietal. I enjoyed it and I think they have an interesting wine future ahead of them.
I finished the meal with pancekes de dulce de leche. These pancakes were more like crêpes and were filled with dulce de leche.
After the meal some of us decided to walk home. It was a beautiful fall evening for the 2.5 mile walk along the coastline.