The finer things in life should be savoured in style
Ascending culinary star RODOLFO GUZMÁN of the award-winning Boragó in Santiago releases the first high-end gastronomy cookbook in English by a Chilean chef
“MANY PEOPLE SAY that times have changed, that everything has become more expensive.
The cost of renting a place to establish a restaurant in a major city has skyrocketed and food has become costlier, while our free time has decreased. It is also common to hear that luxury restaurants will disappear and that most people will eat at bistros, or at cheaper but still sophisticated places.”
So says fast-rising culinary star chef Rodolfo Guzmán, who helms Santiago, Chile's Boragó, which finds itself on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list among an illustrious, exclusive group in Latin America that includes Peru's Central, Maido and Astrid y Gastón, Brazil's D.O.M, Argentina's Tegui, and Mexico's Pujol and Quintonil. He finds the sentiments of contemporary times both confusing and contradictory. “What is luxury?” he asks. “How do fine-dining restaurants around the world operate? These are important factors to consider, and they function differently depending on the context and the culture.”
Guzmán outlines the crucial elements for any establishment, also serving as a manifesto of his life's work: “Restaurants should be capable of modifying an environment and an entire community, as well as altering or improving the perception of food, communicating a message through the food that is consumed daily. They are also capable of generating knowledge and transmitting
it, enriching traditions and interacting with the territory in a seasonal fashion. They have a perfect understanding of the possibilities of seasonality, and establish a strong bond with farmers and fishermen.” He explains that such places are rare, but that they should be the target for all. “They are singularly capable of improving the lives of people, and generating and disseminating knowledge.”
Boragó, now being celebrated in a new title (to be released on November 6) by book publisher Phaidon, is an extraordinarily game-changing restaurant with a philosophy to match. Behind it and its expansive menu are more than 200 people, including foraging communities and small producers that span the entire length of the country. In this way, Boragó reconnects Chileans with their culinary heritage and millennia-old traditions.
Chile had something of an image crisis when Guzmán started out. “In 2006 and 2007, when I first started to serve these new ingredients at Boragó, luxury ingredients were being imported,” he explains. “Whatever came from within Chile was considered to be of lesser quality.” When diners from Santiago asked about the country of origin of the ingredients, they couldn't believe it was locally grown produce. “We were championing a new Chilean cuisine and ideas never before explored.” Since the time Spaniards colonised the territory in the 16th century, Guzmán feels that his fellow countrymen have tried to emulate everything European. “We never tried to just be Chileans and we never bothered to develop that feeling of national pride until recently,” he explains. “That's what I wanted to change at Boragó.”
Thus, rather than import white truffles costing more than US$4,000, for example, he used white strawberries from the Chilean city of Purén that cost less than US$20 per kilo. “Nature didn't put the prices on things – we did – and both ingredients were equally amazing,” he says. “For me, the added value in white strawberries from Purén is that they are an endemic ingredient.”
This is the path of a broader Latin American movement, with its famous brigadier generals including Gastón Acurio, Alex Atala, Virgilio Martínez and Enrique Olvera. Each of them is at the root of an introspective journey, from Peru to Mexico and on to Brazil, in search of the land of their
origins, crossing recondite districts—from the Amazon jungle to the steep Andean highlands, and from the tropical coast to the most deserted Mexican backcountry. These chefs return from their trips laden with tantric experiences and new challenges. Ingredients that had never been documented are now on geographical maps.
Boragó's cuisine is embedded within Chile's extreme terrain – the Andes mountain range, the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Atacama Desert, icy glaciers and lush forests. Utilising indigenous mushrooms, wild fruits, seaweeds and succulents, Guzmán eschews any ingredient non-native to this part of the world in order to explore new possibilities in cooking and flavours. The result is the restaurant's dynamic, wildly imaginative degustation menu: Endémica.
In the Boragó book, Guzmán describes the flavours, ingredients and techniques that have become his signatures – from devising his own fermentation process using Chilean seaweeds or wild fruits to experimenting with a traditional Chilean roasting rack for his Patagonian lamb dish. In the book's introduction, Guzmán reminiscences about the mouth-watering anticipation of waiting for his mother's desserts as a child; sweet dishes,
ice creams in particular, have also been important for the restaurant since its early days.
Andoni Luis Aduriz, one of the most influential chefs of our times (at Spain's Mugaritz, where he worked with Guzmán) and a former confidante of Ferran Adrià's at El Bulli, has written a moving foreword to the upcoming book, which reads thus:
“It can be difficult to pilot a project that seeks to open new opportunities beyond the comfortable topics and space of what has already been established. Building has always been costlier than destroying, in the same way that conceiving a new horizon is harder than judging. In line with this, the word undertake, for me and for many others, is laden with merit, not to mention heroism.”
“Guzmán opened his restaurant a decade ago, imagining the possibility beyond just doing things well. He created a new reality, unifying the concepts of renewal and genuine. Beyond the flavours and products that have represented Chile, there are other ingredients that, although they are Chilean, were discarded due to disaffection or lack of knowledge. The result of all that effort is today's Boragó, one of the best restaurants in the world, a centre of creation that can boast of having been established on a great deal of passion and effort despite the indifference of many. This is no small matter, because there is no adversary more prepared to negate qualified cooking than scepticism. Even with this, the most important work done by Boragó, throughout these years, has originated outside the stove and cutting board.”
“Guzmán's ideas and reflections reach the public with the desire to change reality and take on a new meaning of food. One of the underlying qualities of cooking is that it is a tool for transformation. The most obvious is that when cooking, the food's form and properties are modified, and when that food in turn is ingested, it changes us. Rodolfo and his team have continued to mark the path of change with sweetness and determination while they fill their world with dwelled words, laden with horizons and strong intentions. They write: ‘We attempt to look back in order to walk forward, to connect our past with a possible future of Chilean cooking, through learning and knowledge of our territory and of our biodiversity, as well as the culture of our native peoples, the root of our origin.'”
Aduriz's foreword, and indeed this book, attests to Guzmán's grand vision. Boragó's wings are quivering and the effect is globalising. Wherever you are, enjoy the ride.
“A restaurant should be capable of modifying an environment and an entire community, improving the lives of people, and generating and disseminating knowledge”
Clockwise from above: Sea urchin from Quintay with black luga, chagual and vegetable milk; chef Rodolfo Guzmán; mushrooms ageing at 3,500 metres in the Andes; fermented pewén chupe
Clockwise from far lower left: Black Flower; chupones; sea strawberries; the Atacama Desert in Chile