With a family history that spans three continents and culinary travels that includes many parts of the world, Gerard Gardel’s family has intimately experienced the world’s richly varied cuisines. On his father’s side, the family emigrated to Argentina from Europe in the early 1900’s. His mother’s family set sail from Athens at the end of the Second World War.
“When Mom’s family emigrated to Argentina, they moved to Lanus with quite a few other Greek families. Her memories growing up centered around helping in her mother’s kitchen where her first main task was making mayonnaise at age 5, learning the art of shoemaking in her father’s shoe factory, and celebrating birthdays and holidays with her Greek family and neighbors who nostalgically relished their culture rich with food and music.”
“Dad grew up in a well-to-do second generation Argentine Armenian family who had emigrated via Europe in the early 1900’s. His childhood memories are filled with good food as well - Argentine food - and mostly soccer, Boy Scouts and fun neighborhood adventures with friends. When Mom and Dad met at a dance, he was instantly taken by her. As their courtship progressed, Dad was invited over to mom’s house weekly for dinner. After a few Greek feasts, Dad joked that he’d love to see what Mom could do with a Milanesa or an empanada. This was the impetus for Mom to take culinary classes and master the craft and traditions of authentic Argentine cuisine."
“The first dinner Mom attended at Dad’s was an asado at my grandparent’s estancia. Mom, confident in her culinary skills and seeing a clear opportunity to impress Dad’s family, volunteered to make the Chimichurri to accompany the asado. Quite the bold gesture. Chimichurri is as central to a good asado as the fire and flames, so Mom had a lot riding on her ability to deliver. And deliver she did. Her Chimichurri was a huge success! It was authentic, balanced and delicious, and broke the ice wonderfully with her future in law’s."
No one knew then that Mom's Chimichurri would become an important business for her future family.
“In 1991 Dad sold his business in Argentina, and we set sail for Los Angeles. It took a couple of years to find our footing in a new world with a new culture. Leaving a family of 20 cousins meant leaving behind birthdays and other fun family engagements. We were all a bit homesick so we decided to have a small gathering with our new friends to celebrate life and bring back some of the large family feeling that was missing in our lives. The theme of the gathering? An Empanada, Chimichurri and Champagne party. Mom made 6 different types of empanadas, while my brothers and I “served” guests Champagne. Dad, of course, enchanted everyone with his contagious sense of humor and jokes!”
“Our guests and friends loved the party, and suggested we begin an Empanada and Chimichurri catering business. What began as a huge compliment, turned into a serious nudge to offer Los Angeles an authentic Argentine experience. "We thought and we thought and we thought. Why not open a full fledged restaurant?!"
From the start, Azniv and Carlos knew that they wanted to build a traditional Buenos Aires restaurant, not rustic, but elegant and sophisticated, with a menu of totally authentic Argentine cuisine. “In the beginning my parents, two brothers and I all worked in the restaurant. It didn’t take us long to get into the grove and find our rhythm. Then it was magical!”
As the customer base grew, the family adapted their roles. Azniv had trained the chef, and now was in a supervisory role. Rod went off to law school, Max went to Italy, passed the exams in Italian and became the restaurant’s sommelier. Carlos was taking care of the business side of things. Gerard who had started by being a bus boy, graduated to server when Rod left for school, and soon took the next leap: restaurant manager.
“I earned my stripes the hard way,” Gerard laughs. “Taking over as manager of the restaurant meant some big decisions for me personally, because I had been composing music, was making an album, and had an opportunity to tour.”
At decision time for Gerard, Irene Virbila, award-winning restaurant critic for the LA Times, did a glowing write-up on the restaurant. Gerard realized he couldn’t leave what he and his family had worked so hard to build into a success. “I’m so glad I made that choice.”
Still needing a creative outlet, Gerard launched into making ice cream. “It turned out so well, we still serve it in the restaurant.” The next project was Chimichurri sauce. Taking his mother’s amazing recipes and making them into shelf-stable retail products was a five-year process, and well worth the effort.
“Everything our family has done since launching Gardel’s restaurant and now the Chimichurri sauce has been an outgrowth of our family history and our relationships. Authenticity is at the root of it all, the love of Argentine cuisine, and our close-knit family.”