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Cooking With Fire: In The Kitchen With Private Chef Talo

By Elizabeth Harper | October 9, 2020 | Food & Drink

For Aspen private chef Talo, cooking is amuch about community as it is ingredients.

IMG20200308131004271-0001.jpgChef Talo grilling in Aspen. He will soon set off on an all-inclusive culinary trip to Patagonia with a select group of his VIP clients.

What brought you to Aspen? It’s a question I often wonder as I interview local notables. Sometimes you’ll stumble upon a born-and-raised Aspenite—a rare commodity—but more often it’s a similar story: I came to ski and could never bring myself to leave. Gonzalo Gutierrez, more affectionately known as chef Talo, falls into the latter category. Yet something in his story sticks with me. It somehow feels more authentic, more unique.

Talo, who hails from Buenos Aires, began his Aspen pilgrimages in the early aughts—2003, to be exact—for none other than its snowy allure. But the pull of this Colorado mountain town proved to be so strong it changed the trajectory of not only his career, but also his life. On completing his degree in international affairs, Talo set off on his final trek to Aspen before beginning his “serious” life. “I was always a backpacker and traveler,” he says of his adventurous streak. “I was going to have fun... and then I’d be back and be a serious guy for the rest of my life.” But fate intervened, and “that didn’t happen,” he says, “which I’m really glad about.”

As Talo recounts the tale of his Aspen rebirth, it’s as if a weight is being lifted. He’s light, energetic, undeniably passionate. And, truth be told, I can’t imagine this creative soul behind a desk in the Argentine military international affairs office. To me, he belongs in the wild, cooking under the stars, grilling in the open air. “Cooking is not about the food,” he says. “It’s about the people you share the food with or the place where you’re having the experience. It should go beyond the flavors and taste.” It’s community.

IMG20190815112706899.jpg Crab salad with frilled shrimp and avocado mousse

Talo discovered his passion for cooking by way of his love for skiing. “I came for the first time [to Aspen],” he says, “ran out of money in one week and started trying to find jobs.” He found work in the basement of a seafood restaurant, shucking oysters. “I loved being there,” he recounts. And the rest, as they say, is history. Talo continued to return to Aspen seasonally while simultaneously training to become a chef—although, he notes, he did not complete culinary school. “I went there to get the information I needed for my career.” And when that was ticked off the to-do list, it was sayonara—and opening his own 20-seat restaurant outside Buenos Aires.

But, Talo reminisces, “I was thinking about Aspen every day.” And by 2013, he had shuttered his restaurant and moved to Aspen full time. “Aspen is home,” he says. On arrival, he worked in several restaurants before joining the team at Dancing Bear Aspen, which, again in a twist of fate, led to a newfound career as a private chef. “I realized that restaurants weren’t working for me anymore,” he says. “Being a private chef brought me back to cooking and using my hands and my heart, and I really wanted a reconnection with the activity.”

Among the newly minted private chef’s first clients, in fact, were the same families he had met while at Dancing Bear. “When you’re a private chef,” he explains, “you work together with [the client] to give them what they want.” It’s no longer about perfecting a single dish on a seasonal menu, rather it’s about catering to a family’s unique needs, ages, palates and preferences. “That’s how I learned to be a private chef,” he says.

IMG20191231220826921.jpgChef Talo on the Dancing Bear Aspen rooftop with Aspen Mountain in the background

Talo organically grew his namesake company solely by way of word-of-mouth recommendations. And this, in effect, is what separates him from other private chefs. He is not a chef for hire; he is a chef for partner. “When I started cooking,” he recalls, “I cooked for my friends. ... It was a way of giving love—having all your friends or family at a big table all talking. ... You realize cooking is not about the food; it’s about the people you share the food with... the experience should go beyond the flavors and taste.” For Talo, that equates to cooking for only a select few clients with whom he shares a particular bond. “The guests are the center of the party,” he says. “You have to have a good mood and be happy and put a lot into what you do. Each bite that you put in your mouth, it’s energy.”

His philosophy lives within the dishes he prepares: namely Spanish- and Italian-influenced flavors, lots of vegetables and meats, and grilling over an open flame whenever possible—an ode to his Argentine heritage. “When I cook,” Talo says, “I think about my grandmother’s food and how much love she would put in every simple dish she would cook, and it tasted amazing. That’s what I try to do. I try to put myself in that mood and energy and feed you love.”

In keeping with Aspen’s local culture, the chef sources organic local produce and meat when possible, noting Colorado lamb among his favorite proteins. The secret to his magnetic cooking it seems is the fervor with which he creates his dishes. They are simple in nature and high in quality—the grill bringing out complex flavors. “In Argentina we are really good at cooking with fire. We use fire; we need the fire,” Talo says. “I think we have that passion inside us that relates to everything we do—like sports and how we hug and kiss instead of shaking hands. Everything is exaggerated with us and fire is a part of that.” Fire, he adds, also serves as a meeting point, fostering a feeling of community. “It bonds people.” “Food,” Talo concludes, “is about nourishing.”

20180817181601.jpg“Chimichurri is the ultimate Argentine steak sauce. It’s best when done a couple of days ahead of time to allow the oil to absorb all the flavors. It goes well with your favorite cut of grilled meat. This is a green version of my sauce that, by using some dominant flavors such as garlic and parsley, does not need any time to marinate. You can make it, then immediately serve it.” –Chef Talo

1⁄2 cup olive oil
1⁄2 cup parsley, chopped
1⁄2 cup green onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, diced finely
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 small red onion, diced
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cut all ingredients by hand with a very sharp knife—avoid a food processor.
Mix in a bowl and enjoy!

Tags: food chef

Photography by: courtesy of chef Talo