Meet & Eat: Ignacio Mattos, Il Buco

Meet and Eat: NY

Conversations with chefs and food personalities in New York City.

20090417-meetandeat.jpgIgnacio Mattos wound his way through kitchens in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, San Francisco, Spain and Italy before landing here in New York, ultimately at Il Buco.

You may be familiar with the restaurant's annual pig roast, but you also don't want to miss their Earth Day fundraiser. From Tuesday, April 21, through Saturday, April 25th, Il Buco will slash 15 percent off your total lunch bill and donate that money to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world's oldest and largest global environmental network. This fundraiser fits in nicely both with Il Buco's philosophy on sustainable agriculture, but also with their intent to become the first carbon neutral restaurant.

Name: Ignacio Mattos
Location: NoHo
Occupation: Chef, Il Buco

You're from Uruguay--how did you become so intimately acquainted with Mediterranean cuisine? Well, the immigrants in South America, especially Uruguay, are mostly from Spain and Italy as well as France and other places. That kind of linked me to this type of food.

Who influenced your personal philosophy about food? I would say Francis Mallmann, one of Latin America's most famous chefs. I worked for him for a long time. He has a very primal, simple, yet complex approach to food which I believe impacted the type of food I have developed today.

How did you become connected to Il Buco? I came here once for my birthday many years ago, and after several years this proposal came through Francis. He is a friend of Donna, the owner.

If you had to eat only Spanish or Italian cuisine for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Would your answer be the same if you had to pick between Spanish and Italian wine? I could never go just for one. I could tell you some things! Like tortilla de papas (we ate this in Uruguay at least twice a week at home) and then pasta--I love pasta! So it is really hard to say. I could spend a lot of time comparing dishes, but it would be hard. In the end, my food is more Spanish tasting, more robust in flavor--so maybe that is your answer!

Tell us about your upcoming Earth Day fundraiser. Why did you decide to support the work of International Union for Conservation of Nature? Choosing an organization to support is a very difficult thing to do. A lot of people are trying to do great things and some of them could have a big impact on nature conservation. In this case, IUCN is a very special organization that has a serious impact on the restoration of the ozone layer. The only way to do this is through reforestation of the Amazon.

In addition to your Earth Day fundraiser, what other green initiatives do you have in place or planned at Il Buco? Since opening 15 years ago, we have primarily used sustainable agriculture. All paper, plastic, and glass is recycled and food is composted when possible. Most paper used in the restaurant is printed on recycled paper. Most of the back of the house is illuminated by "energy efficient light bulbs." Il Buco installed a water filtration system a decade ago and does not offer bottled still water. But the main goal is to do these kinds of fundraisers for the causes that we really believe in.

Sadly, we missed your Umbrian Harvest dinner back in February. What were some of the dishes you served and have any of them been added to regular menu? Yes, it was crazy--a big response, we were completely overbooked but it ended up going really well, and it was great to see lots of familiar faces (regulars), that really care about olive oil. [Editorial note: they served Viridens, il Buco's signature extra virgin olive oil from Umbria.] It is kind of hard to find people that are interested in olive oil.

And of course, we have to ask about your annual Sagra del Maiale, the pig roast. Do you have the date set yet so we can mark our calendars? Anything special in store this year? Well, it's a great event, all about eating and drinking in a more real and primal way--a huge pig on the street in New York City! So this year I think it will be on a Sunday, which we've never done before. So the idea is to close the restaurant for the night and serve as much pig as we can. That is always the problem with the pig roast, so try to come as early as you can!

Best pizza in the city? I love Franny's! And then Di Fara--Dom DeMarco is such a committed artisan.

Favorite burger? People have many different opinions and I haven't been hunting down the best that much. But I went to PJ Clarke's, and so far it was the best burger I've had. The bacon cheeseburger--really good.

Favorite bagel? I like going to Russ and Daughters. It is such a great store, beautiful stuff, and it always changes what I get so it is hard to tell!

Best late-night eats? At home. Ha ha ha.

Guilty pleasures? I just found out that my cholesterol is very high so right now it would be fat. Any type!!!

Food you won't eat? There are a bunch of things that I won't eat but it all depends, as I say all the time. So, I wouldn't say anything in particular, as long as it tastes good!

Most memorable New York City meal? I don't know. Most of the time those kinds of meals are cooked at home, or at a friend's house--those are the ones that stay with me.

Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours? There are only a few people that I really trust for recommendations, so I just try to follow my own instincts.

What's the best recommendation you've received? Well in this case it was Alice Waters. Two and a half years ago she had dinner with some friends, Gilbert and Richard. She recommended Franny's. This was on a Friday night. Next Sunday, I gave it a try and it was just what I enjoy eating.

il Buco, 47 Bond Street (b/n Bowery and Lafayette; map); 212-533-1932