The Expat: Vanessa Camozzi

Born: Washington DC
Lives: Palermo Hollywood
Education: Communications degree and a Masters in journalism
Profession: Co-owner of Fukuro Noodle Bar
Book: The Alchemist
Film: Corazón de león
Gadget: My new egg poacher

Married to an Argentine, journalist turned cook Vanessa Camozzi was already familiar with Buenos Aires after various vacations and a two-year stint in 2005. But looking to fulfil their dream of opening a restaurant, the couple returned last year and made that dream come true with Fukuro Noodle Bar.

Vanessa says: “I’ve been with Matías for 15 years and we’ve been married for 12 so my first visit would have been during my college years. I was a freshman in college in Alabama and I always laugh about the fact that I met an Argentine in Alabama! I was on the tennis team and his best friend was on the golf team, and tennis and golf used to hang out together. We met at some party and I had thought he was rather cute and while I was talking to some friends, he came over and really matter of factly asked me for my phone number. It was so blunt! I said I didn’t have a pen but then he came back a minute later with a pen and a napkin – we’ve been together ever since.

“He was four years older than me so I always knew he’d be graduating then would maybe go back to Argentina but somehow we made it work. But 15 years later, we’re full circle, back in Buenos Aires!”

Two-year stint
Although various vacations brought the former journalist to the Argentine capital, it wasn’t until she had a lengthy stint living here that she really became familiar with it.

“I really got to know the city in 2005 when we were living here for two years. I had finished my degree and was working at a PR firm in DC. It was all great – I was 21 – and then after a year working in an office I thought ‘this is terrible.’ So as our second year in DC started, we began planning a trip as I wanted to do something different while Matías wanted to study and started doing a PhD in economics.

“In addition, all of Matías’ family is in Buenos Aires so that’s why we thought we’d give being somewhere different a whirl.”

And so with a change in mind, the couple made a beeline for Argentina. Vanessa says: “I wanted to learn Spanish really well so I went to class five hours a day for three months at the University of Belgrano – it was really intensive. I learned how to start speaking in other tenses besides the present! And I worked at a kindergarten, which I really loved. So that was when I became really familiar with Argentina and it was something more than just coming here on holiday and stuffing ourselves with parrilla and wine.”

But then they bounced back to the US when Matías was invited to be a research fellow. “I remember we were at the beach in Cariló when he received an email as he had been accepted to do some research at the University of Texas. So from here we went to Austin for a brief stint. Then, after a year, we went back to DC when I was accepted onto a grad school programme. So after 10 more years in DC, we are now back in Buenos Aires!”

Second time lucky
The couple decided to give the city a second shot, given that they both have one particular passion in common: Asian food. Vanessa adds: “Ever since I was a teenager I’ve always worked in the restaurant industry – in the kitchen, at the front of the house, at the back of the house – and when Matías realized that he didn’t like economics and political science because it was kind of boring, he got hooked into gastronomy.

“Then we took a trip to Japan, to shoot a documentary in a whaling town called Taiji, and went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and I became obsessed with the food and the flavours – we both did! A mutual Japanese friend in DC introduced us to ramen there – and that scene was exploding – and of course, when you work in that business you always think ‘one day I’m going to open up my own spot.’ Everybody says that.

“Then, we were at dinner one night and I remember saying to Matías ‘we should really open up our own place.’ And we were going to open in DC but it was saturated, plus to open your own place you probably need an investor then the vision or the food changes. And so from that day, it stuck and we started planning. We knew the opportunity could be in Buenos Aires and be realistic and tangible, whereas in the US the situation is more like ‘oh, I only need a million dollars.’”

And so the business planning and number crunching began, and all in all it took the couple about a year and a half from tiny seed idea stage to the first night opening of Fukuro Noodle Bar. Vanessa adds: “Thankfully Matías’ family were on the ground here to get the skeleton shaped. And the opportunity definitely exists as it isn’t a saturated market – there are so many opportunities for growth and expansion. But I do say – now – that I’ve received a doctorate in business and economics in the one year I’ve been here because I’ve learnt more in these 12 months, thanks to the craziness, about what it takes to run a business here – it takes a lot of hard work.

Glamorous cleaners
“A lot of people see the restaurant business as glamorous but they don’t see me working 15, 16 hours a day alongside Matías. It’s him and I, we’re a ‘mom and pop’s shop’ so if the floors need to be cleaned, it will be one of us cleaning them. Being a small business is hard as you really are doing everything. And of course getting out of the mentality of being in the States, when you call somebody and they say they’ll be there, well, that doesn’t exist here. You’re lucky if they show up! Getting out of the States bubble has been a learning experience given that everything is service- oriented and demanding. Here, I learned the phrase ‘no pasa nada’ and had to learn to let go, as did Matías, who despite being Argentine, also struggled with these issues after being in the US for so long.

“And inflation! I didn’t even know what that was until I got here! We’d go to Easy or Jumbo to buy something then a week later it was twice the price. I couldn’t grasp how prices here were so crazy. And when you’re embarking on a new business that’s scary, and you have to deal with all these different factors – you have to think about more than just the food. It was truly eye-opening and humbling – I always says Argentines are like MacGyvers, as everybody has to use their ingenuity and figure out their way around different obstacles as it’s not always that streamlined or direct.”

Vanessa lives a few blocks from the restaurant in Palermo Hollywood, a decision the couple made to facilitate undertaking the daily chores involved in running Fukuro. And needless to say, she doesn’t have much free time.

Vanessa says: “On Sundays we sleep in as long as possible as there’s no other day of the week to do it! We’ll also spend time with Matías’ family, which was an adjustment for me as mine is spread out all over the place. ‘What, we’re going to see them and eat all that again? We just did that last week!’ But to see grandparents, aunts and uncles, everyone getting together, I now really enjoy that and it’s really nice quality time.

“And as we’re foodies, on Mondays we go out for dinners. We try to find little gems to eat at, and I’ll also try to be outside as much as possible. Wine or Champagne is usually involved on my days off!”

Buenos Aires Herald, August 9, 2014
Ph: Vanessa Camozzi
Enjoy reading about Vanessa? Meet South African engineer Lucy

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