Rodrigo Gimenez is not your average Santa Barbara chef. Technically speaking, he’s not a chef at all, but a seasoned architect from Mendoza, Argentina, with a master’s degree in historic-building restoration and a lifelong obsession with the culinary world, a man who slowly discovered that he preferred working in kitchens to designing them.
Gimenez kick-started his culinary career in June 2012 after winning first place in the amateur category of The Santa Barbara Independent’s Sizzling Summer BBQ Contest (this year’s contest takes place on June 13, and entries are due by today, May 20). His Argentina Asado Sampler Plate — an eclectic mix of beef, chicken, and pork marinated in Malbec wine and served with lemon cream sauce and chimichurri — dazzled the judges and inspired Gimenez to transform his part-time hobby into a full-fledged career move.
“After winning The Independent’s BBQ competition, I started to seriously think about cooking professionally,” says Gimenez. “I catered a few events in Santa Barbara after the competition, including an open-house event for Margerum and Brander wineries. The positive reaction from people was very encouraging, and I decided to follow through with my vision of opening my own business.”
The new enterprise, aptly named Rodrigo Gimenez Cocinero (RGC), has been met with enthusiasm from both the general public and area food and wine industries. Some of Gimenez’s recent events include catering for Deep Sea Wine, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and the Vintner’s Festival in Solvang. He also sells his handmade empanadas through delivery services and stores, including Isabella Gourmet Foods, Plow to Porch Organics, Local Harvest Delivery, and Goodland Kitchen.
Gimenez’s cooking style is playful and bold, an expression of a chef well-traveled and willing to experiment. Dishes like Pork Belly Confit or Zucchini Wrapped Mascarpone Cheese with Pistachio and Mushroom evoke a sense of nostalgia for the time he spent studying architecture in Italy; other favorites like Pork Ribs in a Honey Rosemary Glaze with Spicy Ginger Apricots suggest a more experimental approach, incorporating classic European flavors with the slow-roasted barbecue tradition of his native Argentina.
“Italy taught me to really appreciate good food,” says Gimenez. “Their passion for quality, tradition, and also experimentation was intoxicating. Italian food introduced me to a much wider array of spices and ingredients — vegetables in particular — than I was accustomed to in Argentinian cuisine.”
Gimenez’s former vocation also has had a significant impact on his food. “As an architect, I was constantly thinking about forms, composition, and color,” he says. “This has carried over into my cooking, most directly into my presentation of food. I like to have very precise and clean edges and to take on interesting forms and balanced compositions.”
Though unsure what the future holds, the talented Argentinian transplant remains focused on expanding his business in as many small ways as possible. In addition to selling packaged empanadas and chimichurri sauces in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, Gimenez is hosting a series of catered dinners on May 23 and 26 at the Goodland Kitchen in Goleta, featuring some of his favorite dishes prepared with classic Argentinian techniques.
Tonight, May 23: Tastes of Argentina: Menu highlights three traditional ways of cooking pork; Sunday, May 26: Traditional Argentinian Asado: Traditional, family-style Argentinian Sunday dinner. For more information about Gimenez and to register for the events, visit rgcocinero.com or email email@example.com.
This story was amended on May 29 to clarify that RGC's empanadas are "handmade" rather than "homemade," as they are made in a commercial kitchen.