Nashville’s first Latino councilman talks business

Fabian Bedne knocking on doors before being elected Nashville’s first Latino councilman. (Photo/Andrew Wilson)

Fabian Bedne knocking on doors before being elected Nashville’s first Latino councilman. (Photo/Andrew Wilson)

Fabian Bedne never thought he’d be Nashville’s first Latino councilman. In fact, he says rather bashfully that it makes him feel self-conscious when people bring it to his attention, because he just wanted to serve his community. For Bedne, each day is about providing a service and listening.

“I had ideas on how to make the community better,” says Bedne on what made him run for office.

Bedne says his father raised him to help out whenever he could, so it comes as easily as breathing for him. He first came to the U.S. from Buenos Aires, Argentina, as part of an architect exchange program that aimed to bring social change to low-income communities.

“I worked in Columbus, Ohio in low-income neighborhood to fix crack houses,” says Bedne. “I was in charge of training ex-convicts in construction. We didn’t mind their background; we just wanted to give people a chance.”

He remembers having a blast, because he was doing what he loved — architecture, while also stabilizing the neighborhood. He was only planning on staying in the U.S. for the one-year program, but love kept him here. He met his wife while working in Ohio, and ended up moving to Nashville in 1996 to move closer to his wife’s family.

“In the beginning I was a little bit lost,” says Bedne. “And then I had this fire in my house, and the people were so nice. They brought me new clothes to wear to work. I realized it was a very welcoming place.”

As usual, his mind started wondering about ways he could give back. Back then the Nashville Latino community was small, today today is about 10 percent according to the 2010 Census.

“I was always interested in the political process,” says Bedne. “It’s important that Latinos get involved politically because they can create a sense of ownership. You can then start making decisions about the future.”

Bedne first ran for councilman of Nashville four years ago, and he thought he’d only get 100 votes, but he ended up getting 33 percent of the vote. It was then that he realized that Nashville was ready for someone like him, and it only pushed him to knock on my doors for nine months until he did get elected this year.

“It takes time and work to get people to trust you,” says Bedne. “Sometimes I would sit on someone’s porch and talk about the history of the place. People are interested in that. They want to connect.”

Bedne says he also ran for councilman because he loved the community.

“My district is not majority Latino,” he says. “I just happened to be Latino, and I was very excited that I got elected and that people didn’t care what my accent was. They liked the idea that I could serve them and make the district better.”

He says that the residents of Nashville are aware of the importance of people outside coming in.

“It became a city that grew dramatically,” says Bedne of how the city has changed since he first arrived. “We have many minorities that make Nashville home. I would say that probably 50 percent of Nashville wasn’t born there.”

He takes pride in the Hispanic entrepreneurial presence in Nashville, although it is a small 3 percent from the city’s latest count in 2007. He says Nolensville Road used to be in decay years ago, and now it resembles a little Mexico, lined with grocery stores, and restaurants.

His current mission he says is to make it even easier for residents to open their own business, as it is an extremely important part of their economy.

“For years, through personal initiatives, he’s been able to be a resource and helpful neighbor in the community, says Yuri Cunza, president and CEO of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “He is a great example of what a good neighbor means. For those that are new or second-generation Hispanics, that is great to have – a friend in our own Hispanic community.”

Bedne says what most satisfies him is getting solutions to people’s problems by going from meeting to meeting and being a part of his city’s synergy.

“My wife says that I’m enjoying it too much, because I still have a business,” he says regarding his architecture company, Organicus, LLC, which he also runs. “Each family is different, and I like to listen to what they really need. That makes my day.”

Last week was Bedne’s first meeting as the only Latino at the Metro Council’s Black Caucus. The group of 10 recently changed its name to Minority Council to include him, and he says he’s hoping this will encourage more people to participate. He also is the first councilman in his district to send out a monthly newsletter via e-mail, Twitter and Facebook to further promote unity.

“My dad, he passed away recently,” Bedne says. He believed in making things happen when other people didn’t believe. That showed me that you shouldn’t take no for an answer. You just need to do it. I hope that I get to earn that reputation as well.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

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Three chefs update Argentine fare at Azul

The new culinary team at Azul: Hernán Simesen (l.), head chef Nicolás López (c.) and Matías Romano

The new culinary team at Azul: Hernán Simesen (l.), head chef Nicolás López (c.) and Matías Romano (Photo/Erika Rojas)

For empanadas, skirt steak and the meat fiesta known as parrillada, there are plenty of options among the many reliable Argentine restaurants in the city.

But as any recent Buenos Aires traveler knows, the culinary offerings from the southern end of the Americas are much broader and diverse.

“I want to explain to Americans that Argentinean cuisine is a lot more than just parrillada and wine,” says Stefano Villa, the owner of Azul, a cozy restaurant with blue-washed brick walls at the corner of Stanton and Suffolk Sts. on the lower East Side.

Azul is marking its 10th anniversary by reinventing its once-traditional Argentine menu, bringing in other staples from the countryside – from wild boar to venison – and cooking them with a contemporary twist.

The revolution started one evening a year ago when a young man with long, dark curly hair and a multitude of questions came to have dinner with his girlfriend.

A few days later, the enigmatic diner, Nicolás López, returned with his résumé in hand. Only 27 and originally from Salta in northwestern Argentina, López already had almost a decade of cooking experience in South America. His last job had been as head chef in the restaurant of the Argentine embassy in CaracasVenezuela.

“I put him in charge very fast,” says Villa. “He does the job New York-style. He gives you no time to think.”

The Italian-born Villa, who also owns Industria Argentina and is a partner in Novecento, two other Argentine eateries, opened Azul in December 2001 after traveling in Argentina and falling in love with the country’s cuisine.

His new chef’s next move was to recruit two more chefs back home with fresh ideas for his revolution: A former cooking school classmate, Hernán Simesen, 27, also from Salta, who worked with chef Fernando Trocca at Sucre – a top-tier restaurant in Buenos Aires – and a friend of a friend, Matías Romano, 28, from Buenos Aires, who was mentored by an Argentinian TV cooking show personality, Juliana López May.

“The concept that the three of us have is to feel pride in Argentina,” says López, who finished putting his team together last month. “We simply work with our ideas mixed with the recipes of our aunts and grandmothers.”

The new chefs bring elements from all different parts of this area. There are red and blue potatoes and quinoa from the Andes and wild boar and venison from Patagonia. There’s also seafood, like sea bass from the Falkland Islands and South American king crab, known as centolla.

Dishes include López’s favorite: braised lamb tongue, rabbit confit served with an apple slaw, venison carpaccio and boar with quince sauce.

The restaurant has not only revamped its menu and website, but has been airing the Copa America soccer games and is participating in NYC Restaurant Week, both going on through July 24.

Despite all the changes, Villa says plenty of traditional beef remains on the menu, along with a a wide variety of Argentine wines.

“We are only adding recipes,” he explains.

Originally published in the NY Daily News.