December 12, 2017

Martín Milesi, chef

Friday, July 28, 2017

One life

By Sorrel Moseley-Williams
For The Herald

Age: 40
Lives: London
From: Santa Fe city
Education: IAG culinary school
Profession: Chef at UNA, illustrator
Just read: El hombre mediocre
Just seen: The Crown
Gadget: An A4 sheet of paper and a pencil

On his first visit to London, Martín Milesi felt an immediate affinity and affection for the British capital. The Santa Fe-born chef set up base there four and a half years ago and runs UNA, a pop-up restaurant located in the clock tower of St. Pancras train station.

Martín says: “I think London was in my destiny from my first visit. I’m quite similar to the British and I like the bipolar attitude where it’s either very structured or a bit crazy — the Brits invented punk, for example! That attracted me. It also seemed very elegant at the same time. And, as I wanted to do things differently, I’ve always felt very welcome here.

“There was a special time in my life when I took a sabbatical in 2012 and lived in England for five months, Catalonia for two and three in Florence. Once I had my Italian citizenship, I headed to London — I’ve now been in London for four and a half years. “

In spite of the affinity, the Santa Fe-born chef had to adapt to various cultural differences in Britain’s capital. “I had to learn to keep a diary and deal with the lack of spontaneity. I have to book in seeing a friend six weeks in advance. I respect it and am used to it now but in Argentina, going out for coffee is an easy task. Here, I have my diary I organised but it’s hard because I’m spontaneous.”

Popping up

During his year-long sabbatical, Martín had time to think about his next professional move and began researching pop-up restaurant models. The upshot was UNA, which is based in a spacious flat in the clock tower of St. Pancras train station. He says: “UNA first appeared in my mind 10 years ago when I taught at IAG culinary school in Buenos Aires and I became obsessed with having a restaurant that has just one table. Turning that into a profitable business, however, seemed almost impossible. So I knew that having a pop-up would be the first step in setting up my own business.

“I was introduced to Peter, the owner of UNA’s current venue, and he already rented out the space for private events. It’s a flat, right inside the clock tower of St. Pancras train station, measuring seven by seven metres. Everyone knows St. Pancras, and when Peter invited me to see it for the first time, my mind took me directly to UNA. It was magical. I saw the table set, everything. Because of its size, I could only include one table. That first dinner took place in April 2014 and besides having a restaurant, it’s satisfying to create a unique concept — it took me seven years to reach that objective. I open two or three nights a week now, for the pop-up as well as for private dinners.”

Zone One living

While Martín now lives in Kensington, he’s resided in several London boroughs over the years. “I know a lot of London, for example, I was in Kensal Rise, which is very peaceful with lots of pushchairs, park and families. I lived on a barge in Little Venice, which was both wonderful and not wonderful! It was like living inside a phone booth! I’d wake up to the ducks and feed them some bread, which was all very romantic, but the space was extremely small. I had a mooring but didn’t have a licence to helm — it’s only nice to have a boat if you can use it!

“These days I live in Kensington, which is the first time I’ve been in Zone One. London transport is good but it can be tiring getting around and Kensington is strategic: I can take the Piccadilly Line in 16 minutes to UNA, I can walk around Hyde Park for exercise and I buy most of my ingredients at Whole Foods supermarket in my neighbourhood. I live in a one-bedroom flat that shares a communal garden. There’s a skylight and I can see green leaves and those classic London chimneys that I love.”

Art attack

In his spare time, the chef and illustrator makes the most of London’s art offerings.

“To be honest, I’m still a tourist here. I’m a member of Tate Modern and go there twice a week. There’s a whole new building at the back and it always surprises me with creative exhibits. As an illustrator, visiting galleries inspires me; I also enjoy the Saatchi gallery and they change up quite a lot and I went to Tate Britain a few months ago for a David Hockney retrospective, which was incredible and very inspiring. He paints with an iPad 3 these days.”

As for friends, Martín enjoys family time, given that his brother also lives in London. He says: “I think those Argentines who search out other Argentines miss their country a lot. I love Argentina but I don’t miss it. My brother lives in London too so I often play football with my twin nephews. One is a great goalkeeper and we support him a lot. When it comes to hanging out with Brits, it doesn’t happen that often as I don’t get invited round for asados every day of the week. But I have one good friend called Adrian: he opens pop-up art galleries for a month at a time and he’s been very inspiring when it came to my own project.”

The Santa Fe transplant loves travelling around the UK, and escapes the capital when he can. He adds: “I recently drove to the Cotswolds with my girlfriend; it was an improvised trip but we grabbed a map and off we went. I really enjoy that kind of thing. We got to Stratford-upon Avon and drove back through Oxford. The English countryside is so beautiful. I also like Scotland a lot; I try to travel as much as possible.”

After four and a half years in the UK, Martín’s most British characteristic is good taste. “I always had good taste but I love the British taste in clothes, new things, people don’t wear a shirt for more than two years. In Argentina we’ll use a coat for a decade!

“Plus, London is very different to England when it comes to food; it’s a scene that’s open to trying new things so you can develop your palate. That’s why my project works. Diners love to go out. I can eat well at a Spanish place, an Indian place, anywhere. There are a lot of great British restaurants and I think English cuisine is underrated: I can learn a lot because chefs here are very demanding.”

Besides his friends and family, Martín misses the Argentine way of communicating. He says: “I miss chatting with people. It sounds weird but I do. I had to change how I communicate in London. I also miss speaking in Spanish; it’s never quite the same talking in English. I read an article about Gordon Ramsay in the Financial Times the other day and the headline said: ‘I love America because I don’t live there.’ I feel the same way about Argentina.”



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