Discover a taste of Argentina at Elena, a pop-up restaurant concept at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail

Elena specializes in dry-aged meats from the pampas region of Argentina.
Tricia Swenson/Vail Daily

This past winter, Flame Restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail welcomed the cuisine of celebrity chef Tyler Florence of Miller & Luxe out of San Francisco. This August, the steakhouse welcomes dishes from Elena, one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants that is housed in its sister hotel, Four Seasons Buenos Aires.

To get things all set up and ready to go, Elena’s executive chef, Juan Gaffuri, came to Vail earlier this week. Gaffuri started his career 23 years ago and has traveled the world with the Four Seasons brand, starting out at the property in his native Buenos Aires before working in Carlsbad, California, Punta Mita, Mexico, and the Red Sea property in Egypt. He returned to Four Seasons Buenos Aires 11 years ago to bring on the restaurant concepts in the hotel: Elena, Nuestro Secreto and Pony Line Bar.   

“When we come up with a concept, we try to look for a story to tell. So, with Elena, it is all about Argentinian cuisine, based on porteños style food, and porteño means people who were born in Buenos Aires. But our food is also influenced by Europeans and Arabic cuisine, too, so all those styles of cuisines mix together in Argentina with the meat that we get from the pampas and we create amazing food in the porteños style,” Gaffuri said. The pampas surrounding Buenos Aires contain fertile grasslands where beef cattle are raised.

Juan Gaffuri is the executive chef at Elena restaurant at the Four Seasons Buenos Aires.
Courtesy photo

“The idea is to share with the locals and guests of Four Seasons Vail what we do in Buenos Aires and also mix together what the chefs already do here at Flame. They create great cuisine, this is a great steakhouse and we want to add what we love to do from Argentina for a few weeks. So, we are mixing those menus,” Gaffuri said.

Some signature dishes from Elena include the sweetbread starter.

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“Sweetbread is a gland that we are used to eating in Argentina and I always say, Argentinian sweetbread is like what foie gras is to France. We always have it for special meals with family and friends. It is grilled so it is nice and crisp on the outside and very creamy inside, it comes with potato, egg and an emulsion of lemon,” Gaffuri said.

Another appetizer is the salmorejo burrata.

“That is a refreshing dish that is fresh cheese that comes with salmorejo which is a Spanish preparation based on tomato, olive oil and garlic and some bread. It’s emulsified and is similar to a gazpacho, so it is very fresh and it comes with a black olive powder on top,” Gaffuri said.

Flame restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Vail is hosting the Elena pop-up until Sept. 4.
Tricia Swenson/Vail Daily

Next, Gaffuri suggests the milanesa as a main course, which is a ribeye dry-aged for 45 days that is breaded, fried in olive oil with black garlic aioli and capers and two fried eggs, served with truffle fries.

“This is a very typical dish that we had growing up, we just have upscaled it with a great meat that is dry aged 45 days,” Gaffuri said.

The arroz negro is popular at Elena in Buenos Aires.

“It is a black rice that comes with Spanish octopus, mussels and shrimp and it is unbelievable and the black color comes from the squid ink,” Gaffuri said.

Save room for dessert, Gaffuri offers a traditional dulce de leche crepe prepared in hickory chips for a smokey flavor.

Elena also has an extensive wine selection from Argentina. The El Enemigo chardonnay and Cabernet franc and Puramun malbec and Zuccardo malbec are on the wine list at the Four Seasons Resort Vail during this pop-up.

During the pop-up, Flame will feature special Argentinian wines from its sister restaurant, Elena at Four Seasons Buenos Aires.
Tricia Swenson/Vail Daily

Guffari’s passion for cooking is evident in his ingredients and his enthusiasm for sharing Argentinian cuisine with the Vail Valley. He grew up around his grandmother’s cooking and said he was a better eater than a student.

“When I was a child, I loved eating, you can see that I still do love eating,” Gaffuri said while rubbing his belly. “My grandma was a great cook, she used to cook me octopus, frogs, snails, everything and I used to eat that when I was a child, so at some point, I got the taste from her. I studied engineering for two years, but then I figured out it was not for me, I’m not a good student and I loved eating, so I decided to become a chef. So, that was in 1998.”

Gaffuri can only stay in Vail a few days, he needs to get back to Elena and the Four Seasons Buenos Aires and he needs to continue starring on a reality television cooking show called Pasa Platos. Check it out on YouTube.  

The pop-up will be available from now until Sept. 4. For reservations, please contact Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail.

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