The Expat: Torey Novak

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Born: California
Lives: Godoy Cruz, Mendoza
Education: Latin American Studies at Pennsylvania State University
Profession: Head of wine and olive oil tourism at Familia Zuccardi
Currently reading: Food Politics
Last seen: Transformers 4
Gadget: My Galaxy S4 cell phone

While California via Pennsylvania transplant Torey Novak originally fell in love with an Argentine and travelled back and forth between the two countries, the head of wine and olive oil tourism at Familia Zuccardi winery in Mendoza also fell head over heels with something else: liquid gold.

Torey says: “I spent my year abroad in Brazil with the Rotary Club and when I returned to the US, I met a girl from Argentina and fell in love with her. So my first trip here was in 2006 to come and see her – I spent my summer vacation in Mendoza and absolutely loved it. Then I left, worked for a year then came down again for the same reason the next summer – and this carried on for three or four years. I decided to move here in 2008 and stayed for a year, working in the tourism area at the winery, then after that and once I finished my degree, I came back.”

While many visitors head to Argentina’s capital and are captivated by the fun nightlife and reams of culture, Torey was spellbound by what Mendoza had to offer.

He says: “I’ve seen quite a bit of Buenos Aires, but Mendoza has a certain vibe to it. Personally I love the mountains and when I saw the majestic, crazy way that the Andes belittles your existence, it puts everything you are in context. The natural area that is Mendoza has been touched by man, every plant and tree has been planted by a man or woman. The sun feels more golden and warm. And almost every day is sunny and inviting you to go outside.

“One place I’ve travelled to within Mendoza is Malargüe and there you’ll find La Payunia, which has one of the highest concentrations of volcanoes in any one place in the world. It’s wide open space and the vista there is amazing. Trees are bigger as you are on the edge of Patagonia. It’s really extreme and intense, and the natural beauty is amazing.”

When he first visited Argentina, Torey admits to knowing little about the country despite his degree, plus his language skills were dubious. “I didn’t know anything about Argentina! I didn’t know it was a democratic country, what the majority religion was or how developed how it was.

“And, when I met my girlfriend she spoke perfect English, so there was no pressure to learn. I took some classes at college anyway and had a professor who told me to desist as I was so horrible! Then, when I left Argentina after my first visit, it kind of clicked and now it’s become second nature.”

Torey now laughs about one of the cultural differences he faced: how to greet people. He says: “The kissing culture when you greet someone personally was a big culture shock. It was the first time I had felt a man’s beard on my face! And having all the girls kiss you on the cheek – that would be the first move in the US! It was easy to get to used to, but it was a shock! And, getting used to inflation is still extremely hard for me as it’s not something we ever think about in the States – it might change one percent in 10 years there but it changes one percent a month here.”

Torey’s second passion, olive oil, developed quite soon after he started working for Familia Zuccardi. He says: “In 2010, when I moved here for good, I started working in enotourism. I loved it and wanted to study it. I did some wine tasting courses, then Zuccardi opened a new restaurant, Pan & Oliva, and gave me the opportunity to work there. So I signed up for a course downtown and loved that, then looked for another at once. The second course was at university, another was about olive oil consulting and another was about tourism and gastronomy. Now I’m a sommelier en aceite and although it isn’t a profession as such, I’ve studied more about olive oil than some sommeliers study about wine. And it’s just as profound as the world of wine but the thing is, we haven’t discovered it yet!

“It all clicked when I went to Pan & Oliva and did a tasting with Miguel [Zuccardi, who runs the olive oil side of the business] and I enjoyed it as it’s a product that can reach every consumer, from little kids to older people. It’s not prohibited like alcohol is – and that appealed to me. Also, as we didn’t know much about it, it meant I could create my own path and create projects such as making a poster about olive oil descriptives. I also hired an artist to paint the first olive oil region map in the world. Olive oil has been around for 7,000 years but for me it’s like an infantile curiosity to find about it, then change people’s lives by teaching them about this product that they don’t know anything about!

“I work for a big family company with around 850 employees, and at the end of the day your job becomes your lifestyle. I got really lucky as I love what I do. And I’d like to be a professor teaching somewhere, educating people on olive oil.”

While his working hours are filled with educating visitors about food stuffs, Torey’s spare time tends to be dedicated to the same. “The winery is pretty far away from my home in Godoy Cruz so I catch a bus to take the minibus that drives us to the winery in Maipú. I normally talk to the driver, a kooky guy who’s been driving all his life, and has traversed more than two million kilometres. I work with tourists throughout the day, then when I get home, we take our Sancho the dog for a walk and end up in a park. Then we’ll cook together. I cooked in kitchens during college so working at Zuccardi is the first time I haven’t been in the kitchen. I worked as a pizza maker for five years so I’m pretty good at throwing dough.

“On days off I take my suegra for coffee downtown on the pedestrian walkway, where there’s about 10 or 15 cafés. I also go to the central market as it sells a load of spices and unusual ingredients and I love cooking. Vegetables are fresher and tastier here so I like to make my fiancée something nice. I like making meat dishes, as it’s so spectacular and we also make empanadas together. We’ll take a siesta from about three to five o’clock. It’s very civilised! Then it’s time for media tarde! We buy some sweet stuff from the bakery such as a fosforito pastry with cream inside, which I love.

“I do miss some foods from the US though, like a really great hamburger or some ribs with a barbecue sauce. Philly cheese steak. Waffles!

“I live about 15 minutes away from downtown in Godoy Cruz. It’s still city, but we have the neighbourhood butcher and greengrocer. When I walk my dog, they know me, and I love going to each place and striking up a conversation with everyone and sharing their mate.”

Torey’s girlfriend has now become his fiancée, and later this year she will become his wife. He says: “We’re getting married on October 10 in Mendoza. It’s going to be small and intimate and my dad will be coming, which will be really nice. In general my family has been great about me being here, though they think I’m a little bit crazy. But they have never visited as yet. I think that once I get them all down here then they will understand why I chose to be here. Between me and my fiancée, we’ll have two different cultures between us so we’ll have a bit of both worlds in our life.”

Buenos Aires Herald, July 26, 2014
Ph: Torey Novak

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