Gaucho – the Argentine equivalent of the cowboy. These free-spirited and skilled horsemen wandered on horseback, living off the land and protecting their patrons (ranchers), by tracking down lost cattle. The term itself means orphan or vagabond, and was coined in the 18th century to refer to the horsemen who roamed the Pampas (open plain). Like cowboys, the life of a Gaucho has been romanticized and is mostly an image of the past: the Gaucho culture has been celebrated by poets, and immortalized as the idol of the Argentine people.
Enrique Veliz, a busser and expo at El Gaucho Bellevue, could be considered a modern-day Gaucho. He hails from Trenque Lauquen (translates to “Round Lake”), population 15,000 and 350 miles west of Buenos Aires in Argentina, which borders on the Pampas. While a horse is not his first mode of transportation, nor does he inhabit the open plain and wrangle cattle, today’s Gaucho is more a feeling than a way of life. “It’s a simple life.” he explains, “Complete freedom, solitude, and the opportunity to choose.”
You could say that Enrique inherited this feeling and way of living from his dad, and probably many generations before him. His father traveled the world wherever he could find work, and was gone for months at a time. When Enrique turned 16, he asked his parents if he could “vacation” in Uruguay. Knowing full well what this meant, his parents helped him obtain a visa, which allowed him to travel anywhere he wanted for 15 days. Fifteen days turned into 3 years.
During that time, Enrique worked various jobs in the many locations to which he traveled: he picked fruit, did masonry, and worked in restaurants. He challenged himself to get a feel for the culture wherever he went. After he returned home at the age of 19, he worked for IBM and obtained his college degree in both Literature and Latin. He married and had children, but his Gaucho heart wanted to roam. The U.S. was not high on his list for places to go, but he decided on a short trip to visit family in Philadelphia, and eventually found himself in Seattle.
“The only thing I knew about Seattle was that Bill Gates, Jimi Hendrix, and Nirvana were from here,” he laughs. As fate would have it, he became a U.S. Citizen in 2003, and in 2005 started working at El Gaucho Seattle. Over the course of eight years, Enrique has been back and forth at least 10 times, spending anywhere between two months to a year at a time, employed by El Gaucho.
Enrique explains his home in Argentina is sustained by the polo industry and soybeans. “Gauchos” are all over, and traditions are kept alive through festivals, holidays, rodeos, and the food. He explains “asade” is a whole cow (fur and all) cooked over the open flame, and that rodeos, or “domas” are how the Gaucho spirit is kept alive – through the interaction with the earth, with the horses, and the point of connection between the people.
This concept of the open-pit charcoal broiler (asade), was brought to Seattle by Jim Ward, who opened the original El Gaucho in 1953. Our CEO, Paul Mackay, worked for Jim through the 1970s and equally loved this style of preparing beef. After the original El Gaucho closed in 1985, Paul worked to reopen it, and succeeded in 1996 when he opened the current location of El Gaucho Seattle in Belltown.
Enrique plans to return to his family (he has three children and a grand-child) in Argentina after the first of the year, and go back to teaching high school. He is also working on his Ph.D. in Middle-Age Literature (1300-1700) from the University of Buenos Aires.
When asked if he’ll return to Seattle, he shrugs and says, “Only He knows,” pointing up. “But I have the opportunity to choose.”
Spoken like a true Gaucho.
Excerpt from the epic poem “The Gaucho Martin Fierro,” translated by Jose Rafael Hernández in 1872:
The Life of a Gaucho
“A son I am of the rolling plain ,
A Gaucho born and bred;
For me the whole great world is small,
Believe me, my heart can hold it all…
I was born on the mighty Pampas’ breast,
As the fish is born in the sea;
Here I was born and here I live
That I take away with me.
And this is my pride: to live as free
As the bird that cleaves the sky;
I build no nest on this careworn earth,
Where sorrow is long, and short is mirth.
Then gather around the hearken well
To a Gaucho’s doleful story,
In whose veins the blood of the Pampas runs,
As a bandit grim and glory.”