All In The Family
By Shel Zolkewich
Chef Alfonso Maury waves his arm across the exposed brick wall of his Exchange District restaurant, where a collection of photographs tells the story of his youth. The 8 x 10s show Maury with rock stars, politicians and a host of celebrities who visited the Sheraton Buenos Aires in Argentina, where the chef cut his teeth at his first kitchen job and where his father, not coincidentally, served as official photographer. On the opposite wall is a display of the cameras that dad used to capture the images. A moment later, his son Ivo, 22, calls out a question from the kitchen. 23-year-old daughter Nadia answers before her dad has a chance.
It’s no wonder it feels warm, cozy and–most of all–familial inside Corrientes, the restaurant owned by Alfonso and his wife, Roxana. It is the definition of a family affair.
This atmosphere seems only natural from a chef whose talents were cultivated early. As a young boy in Argentina, he began helping out in the kitchen. His mother, who studied cooking with Argentinean culinary legend Petrona Carrizo de Gandulfo, introduced him to the magic of cooking.
“I remember being about six years old and my mother asking me what I wanted to be. I said, ‘a chef!’” he reminisces. In fact, he still cherishes the book she cooked from: a 1954 edition of El Libro De Dona Petrona.
This conviction never wavered, and chef Maury eventually made a career working in Argentina’s kitchens, including years at the Sheraton Buenos Aires. With a growing family and the need for a little more income, he was lured by the promise of attractive opportunities to immigrants in Israel. Just before the economy collapsed in Argentina in 2001, he relocated to Ein Gev, a kibbutz in Israel, where he ran a large kitchen.
Then one day in 2008, he received a Facebook message from a school chum. “He said, I live in Winnipeg and you should come here.”
The message turned out to be life changing. After paying a visit in 2009, the Maurys moved to Manitoba, at the very time Winnipeg was to see its first major South American restaurant. Alfonso found a job at Hermanos.
Maury’s reputation for running a tight ship and bringing unbridled enthusiasm and creativity to any task quickly had him taking up new opportunities. By 2012, he was overseeing Corrientes, under the same ownership group.
His natural leadership resulted in being selected in 2014 to reopen the city’s signature revolving restaurant. Prairie 360, a passion project for FB Hospitality Group’s owner, Noel Bernier, was a perfect fit for an exacting chef.
That summer, the growing restaurant company also served nearly 15,000 empanadas at two of Winnipeg’s largest summer festivals. Despite the enormity of the endeavor, Maury’s empanada obsession was ignited with the enthusiastic response. The empanada is a chef’s dream: a blank canvas for creation. “It’s the best finger food in the world!” he enthuses. “It starts with great dough and from there, you can add anything you want.”
As he and Roxana pondered the possibility of opening a restaurant built around empanadas, the opportunity to purchase Corrientes arose. The couple jumped at it, and by the spring of 2015 they were its sole owners.
The specialties combine South American classics: pizza and empanadas. While pizza may be a familiar item on Winnipeg restaurant menus, the offerings at Corrientes are flavoured with Buenos Aires. Thanks to a massive wave of Italian immigrants to Argentina in the early part of the 20th century, the country’s cuisine is influenced by the Mediterranean. Today, more than 60 per cent of Argentineans have at least one Italian ancestor.
Pesto, ricotta, sun-dried tomatoes, and other familiar toppings appear on the creative pies, but Maury’s heritage shows keenly in a selection of Argentinean-style pizzas. Each is named after the legendary Buenos Aires restaurant–all of which are located on iconic Avineda Corrientes–that made it famous. The recipe for Banchero, a high-walled creation made from a mozzarella-filled crust, a second crust layered inside, and a heap of white onions is featured here.
Love for the classic foods of their home country prompted the launch of a second business venture. In February, they opened La Pampa, a take-away bakery and café serving up 22 varieties of the hand held treats. Among the most popular is the namesake, featuring charcoal grilled beef, cheese curds, chimichurri and hot sauce.
For Winnipeg diners in search of a South American experience, Maury delivers the real deal.
“When I was around nine years old, I went to my first Argentinean barbeque,” Maury recalls. “It was out in the country and the fire was tended by a real gaucho–he had a sombrero, knife, belt and boots–just like out of a movie. He was cooking a suckling pig over the glowing orange stones. He took out the kidneys, a delicacy, and shared them with me. It was a special moment, and I knew I wanted to cook and make people happy right there and then.”
Inside the warm heritage space on Bannatyne Avenue, over a plate of pizza or steaming empanadas, with his family surrounding him, it’s easy to see the resemblance: a proud chef reaching out and sharing a delicacy.