A haze of smoke settled over the historic Greystone Building at Piedmont Park on the afternoon of Oct 28.
No, it wasn’t from wildfires that have taken over some of Georgia’s parched northern regions. It was an Argentine parrilla grilling cuts of steak that would welcome guests to a celebration of the South American country’s culinary and cultural delights in Atlanta.
Argentina has long been a symbol of sophistication, an attractive destination for those who love European architecture with a South American flair, savory steaks, fine leather craftsmanship, red malbecs and a deep connection to cattle culture.
But the country, a massive expanse south of Brazil and east of the pepper-shaped strip of Chile that extends to the frigid southern extremities of the continent, has been in the shadows when it comes to global business. After a 2001 financial meltdown, a government default dented investment prospects for the past 15 years.
But with new President Mauricio Macri in power since late last year, the country has settled its outstanding debts with investment funds and changed its story, returning with a flourish to the international investment conversation.
Eager to revive the economy, Mr. Macri has made bold bets that improving Argentina’s financial position by removing subsidies and letting the peso float freely against the dollar will lead to increased investor confidence and eventual growth. Many of its own citizens are skeptical and impatient as inflation persists, but world leaders including President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande have flocked to the country, welcoming its newfound openness as an opportunity.
With this timing at their backs, a group of Argentines in Atlanta, with the help of the local consulate general, is now aiming to use their country’s recognizable cultural brand to build bridges to business.
“It’s an opportunity to grow … to integrate and to mobilize our business entrepreneurs from the United States and also from Argentina to invest in Atlanta,” Luigi Perez, president of the newly reinvigorated Argentine-American Chamber of the Southeast, said of the Argentina Food, Wine and Culture Festival.
The festival was the brainchild of Mr. Perez, who also heads up Outland Cuisine, an Atlanta-based travel agency that organizes tours focused on culinary specialties throughout Argentina’s five main regions — Norte, La Pampa, Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Patagonia — as well as to other countries like Peru.
He believes that food is a primary portal to understanding a place, especially one as diverse as Argentina, which most people know mainly for its large, cosmopolitan capital city, Buenos Aires.
The weekend event kicked off with daytime tasting of wines from Argentina, including the Altocedro winery in the La Consulta sub-region in the more famous Mendoza area. After a sultry tango performance, a vocal solo with piano accompaniment and a trio of piano, accordion and cello, the event progressed to culinary classes introducing various regions. Overall, the festival attracted six chefs and two dance troupes, Mr. Perez said.
It also provided an opportunity to bring the close-knit Argentine community in Atlanta together to showcase their home country’s charms to their adopted city.
Esteban Gonzalez, founder of the Atlanta-based mindfulness and meditation app Welzen, said Argentines in the city find each other easily, often getting together for soccer games at Piedmont Park on weekends. Atlanta’s cultural offerings and public art scene made it easy for the Buenos Aires native to acclimate after moving here from south Florida. In his view, there’s a lot of room for Atlantans to learn more about his country through events like the festival.
“It’s definitely a clean slate,” he said, describing knowledge of Argentina in Atlanta and how the festival could help improve it. “This hasn’t been done yet, and I hope it’s a yearly thing.” Mr. Gonzalez also planned to use the festival to launch a series of guided “mindful eating” seminars Welzen is putting on throughout the metro area.
Jorge Lopez Menardi, the consul general of Argentina in Atlanta for the last five months, said the timing of the festival, coinciding with the country’s re-emergence on the international stage, couldn’t have been better.
“It’s a perfect opportunity for us to show what we are doing in Argentina, what we are capable of doing and producing,” said Mr. Lopez, whose office also covers South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi.
Argentine Daniel Porcelli, founder and CEO of Cobbler Union, a luxury shoe manufacturer that sells directly to consumers online and through two of its own boutiques in Atlanta, was looking forward to sampling the lamb, the specialty of his native Patagonia region, a remote area known for its penguins and killer whales — and for being the launch point for cruises to Antarctica.
While it has surprised him over the last decade in Atlanta how many locals have traveled to Argentina, the Emory University Goizueta Business School MBA was convinced that too much of the bilateral relationship’s potential remains unexplored.
“Argentina has tremendous potential, and doing business between the two countries hasn’t been done at the level it should be done, so it’s very exciting that this event exists to expose Argentina beyond the stuff that everyone sees — the food, the tango.”