Chef Where to Eat Around the World Italian Abroad

Buenos Aries by Storm, the Story of Donato de Santis

Claudia Bartoli
copertina donato de santis

A chef-entrepreneur who has conquered the Argentinians with Italian cuisine, proposing typical dishes without adapting them to foreign tastes: Donato De Santis left Italy for Buenos Aires and today he runs two restaurants that are always full, where customers queue up to sit down to eat.

The story

De Santis, originally from the Puglia region, trained first in Milan and then around the world. He is a chef-entrepreneur who has opened two restaurants in Buenos Aires, quickly becoming an authentic celebrity in Argentina. He moved to the South American country in 1999 and since then has been hosting food TV programs; he then wrote his No. 1 book, “Mi cocina italiana”. The chef started working in kitchens in the 1980s in Italy. Precisely Piacenza was his starting point, at the prestigious Osteria del Teatro; here his mentor was Georges Cogny, whom De Santis still remembers with great emotion.

1984 was the turning point: he moved to the United States, becoming a well-known figure, and was even hired by fashion designer Gianni Versace, whose personal chef he became in 1993. Then came the Argentine period, which changed his life and determined his future. The chef had been living in Buenos Aires since 1999, where he opened the well-known Cucina Paradiso restaurant, plus a gourmet pizzeria.

"I was the last Italian emigrant in Argentina in the 20th century" he told Ruggero Po in an interview. Today his restaurants don’t accept reservations, but there is always a queue of people outside the door waiting to eat. "I prefer people to wait in line, perhaps in the meantime getting to know each other and start chatting. In my opinion it is an idea that, when the place deserves it, increases its charm and fame". Italian cuisine, for the chef, is at the very base, and in Argentina he has made his traditions known and loved through traditional dishes without shortcuts.

Pasta, for example, abroad “often loses texture and flavour due to the use of different ingredients and their different dosage”. It is therefore necessary to keep the focus on the original recipes. “Many people modify our culinary traditions to make people believe, for example, that 'ragù alla Bolognese' is really an Italian speciality or, even worse, that it can be used to season spaghetti and tortellini. Thanks to the work that has been done since the restaurant first opened, however, when people enter my restaurant, they are willing to accept the offer as is and allow themselves to be guided in an emotional experience, to understand what it was like to eat in the Italian restaurants of the past. Of course, it may happen that they ask me for something 'Bolognese', in which case I solve the situation by serving tagliatelle, the only dish in which you can put minced meat sauce. Without compromising other dishes."

Why did he choose this place for his business? “On the map of my life, Argentina suddenly appeared: a new, unknown place, perfect for indulging my spirit of adventure. Here I found the right balance, after 15 years in North America, to be able to put into practice the experience I had accumulated beginning my life as a cook/entrepreneur." Judging by the turnout at his premises, he hasn't messed up much.


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