In addition to making pastries for his business, Diego’s Empanadas, Funes caters asados at clients’ homes
CM: Why did you decide to bring Argentine asado to Charleston?
DF: I started doing asado when I was 12 or 13, when my father passed me the flame, so to speak. It’s a tradition on Sundays in Argentina. We love to invite people over and slow-cook cuts of beef over an open fire. I’ve done these for friends, who said, ‘Dude, you should start doing these and charging people for them!’ I went to a welder in Hollywood, who made me a big fire pit so I could cook for larger events.
CM: So what is an asado exactly?
DF: It’s focused on the cow because we’re big on cows in Argentina. You start with empanadas and then move on to different cuts [of organ meats] we call achuras, like blood sausage or sweetbreads, all with some melted provolone on the side to make little sandwiches. Then you move on to the beef ribs, the star of the show. You can also have seared flank steak served with chimichurri or salsa and uncomplicated salads like lettuce and tomato or a potato salad. The idea is to light a fire, make yourself a drink, and get your appetite up from the smell of the fire.
CM: How is an asado different from an American cookout?
DF: First, here in the South, it’s all about pork. Also, American barbecue has different techniques and grills. We don’t use any marinades or sauces, just quebracho wood to add flavor to the meats. It’s slow-cooked on a metal cross, leaning against the fire. Maybe every half hour, you sprinkle salt water on top of the meat to keep it hydrated.
CM: Where do you buy your meat?
DF: I go to either El Molino or Ted’s Butcherblock for blood sausage or chorizo, then to a chef or restaurant store for beef ribs or flank steak. Also, because it’s important to have bread with it, I go to Delicias de Minas, a bakery in Goose Creek that bakes frozen bread from Brazil. It’s the closest I can find to Argentine bread.
CM: Is asado a seasonal thing?
DF: It’s year-round. An asado is an excuse to discuss the problems of the world or try to solve them. It works for birthday parties or just seeing old friends, maybe to get a little tipsy during the day and say, “All right, it’s Sunday, I’ve been waiting for this time.” You leave your problems behind. It’s a celebration of life.
CM: Who does most of the cooking in your family?
DF: At home, I do all the cooking. When I get with my Argentine family, it depends. It’s either me or my brother for an asado. But we are very similar to Italians in many ways—nothing’s better than mama’s cooking.
CM: What’s the biggest mistake home grillers make with asado?
DF: One of the things is to cook it too quickly and not have the patience to be around the fire for three hours. The other is to over-complicate it. An asado should be where you take it easy; don’t marinate or add too many things that don’t need to be there. For us, we like to taste the meat and not cover it with flavors.
CM: Because of the Argentina connection, we have to ask—do you tango?
DF: I like to listen to tango music, but to dance? No, it’s too difficult. My grandparents were very good at it; they would glide on the floor. I don’t glide. I get stuck between my mind and my body. —Helen Mitternight