The Evolution of Chilean Gastronomy with Chef Rodolfo Guzman
Chef Rodolfo Guzman has changed the face of Chilean gastronomy with his restaurant Boragó. Currently #5 on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and #42 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, his first appearance on the list in 2013 literally changed his life overnight. Culture, history, research, geography, respect for his suppliers (who have become like family) and team contribute to his thoughtful, ultra-seasonal cuisine. Inspired by his ancestors, Japan and maybe even a rock & roll legend, Chef Guzman spoke with Ann Hill about the evolution, Chilean cuisine, Boragó and his favorite spots in Santiago.
Aspire Lifestyles: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of your restaurant?
Chef Guzman: People should know that Chile is a very different country even from the rest of Latin America, mainly because of its geography. Chile has 4200 kilometers of coastline and therefore the species of unique sea creatures that you find in the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean, including more than 750 types of algae and hundreds of types of unique halophytes, which have very intense, beautiful and different flavors. I would say that the main flavor of Chilean cuisine is always smoke, since in one way or another it is always present in most of our cooking methods. About Boragó’s food, It represents a long learning process, as well as the humanization of what we like to call the new ingredients, which suddenly appear for only a few weeks of the year. Several of them have never been used for cooking and this opportunity of flavors is incredible! Our chefs at Boragó are terrifically obsessed with delicious taste. I can’t say anything that will articulate this type of cuisine without being in Chile, but I can say that Boragó is the continuation of the Mapuche People and culture, attaching knowledge to tradition.
Aspire Lifestyles: What is the most important value you teach to your kitchen team?
Chef Guzman: We try to push the boundaries of ingredients, incorporating taste, discovery, our ideas about cooking and the learning process. When we aim for a common goal as a group, I think it is necessary that energy, body, mind and soul be completely aligned and well prepared. There is a kind of daily performance in everything we do, so I think the more focused we are the more we can enjoy it as cooks. We understand where food really comes from, how it grows, in what conditions, who ate it in the past and in what way. There are many small producers all over the country who all feel like a true family. We are building a human chain in charge of extremely seasonal ingredients throughout the country, which undoubtedly represents new economies. This synergy allows us to use exactly the same ingredients and cooking methods used by the ancient Mapuches, but in our case, pushed forward. It has brought the continuation of a deep Chilean culinary culture in ways we never dreamed of.
Aspire Lifestyles: When friends come to the city, where do you take them, both for dinner and for a privileged view of Santiago?
Chef Guzman: Santiago is a city that changes a lot during the seasons; we could say almost 4 different cities in one! For food, I take my friends to Doña María’s Ranch, a place where you can try the truest Chilean food imaginable, probably as it was 100 years ago. She’s just brilliant. Santiago has a very deep culture for sandwiches, something that everyone should probably try in the German Fountain área of Santiago. During the winter snow reaches the surrounding mountains to nearly the base and there are 3 ski resorts only 45 minutes from the city center. When spring arrives you can visit the countryside in only 30 minutes and be at the coast in one hour. If you want to have a good idea of the city itself, you can cross the city on the new bike path that literally crosses Santiago from east to west surrounded by the Bicentennial Park.
Aspire Lifestyles: You have a beautiful cookbook with illustrations from your personal journal. How did you choose which dishes to feature and are the dishes more for the advanced home cook?
Chef Guzman: I would like this book to represent and be able to show something I call point 0, which speaks of a 10-year learning process. We consider the seasons and the origins of an ingredient, such as the Atacama Desert Chiloé, or in Patagonia, and in the end it could mean three completely different things. We know how it grows, how to cut it from the ground, from what date to date is available, and who may have eaten it throughout history, Mapuches, Kawesqars? Can you believe that there is a wild vegetable that took us 10 years to truly understand how it was cooked? For me this is incredible! Because it allowed us to learn about ingredients that are truly unique. Referring to the dishes that were chosen for the book, it comes from the gut, being the most representative, reminding us of certain epochs or important milestones throughout the season and in the past years, it comes more from the guts than any other things.
Of course, these recipes are much more advanced than a typical cookbook, mainly because we spend so many years developing our skills around an ingredient and cooking methods. But the good news is that many of the 100 recipes in the book, my mother could cook them at home, even replacing ingredients. I have tried them and they work very well.
Aspire Lifestyles: What has been your most memorable food destination (city/country)? Why?
Chef Guzman: There are many really memorable destinations, but I’m a chef, I think Japan has been a revolution for me!
Aspire Lifestyles: If you could cook for any musician, band, rock star, etc?
Chef Guzman: Too easy! That´s the best guitar player of all time, Eddie Van Halen!
Aspire Lifestyles: How has your placement on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list changed your life?
Chef Guzman: Oh that´s a very easy one! The restaurant it was in a bankrupt state, for 6 years almost empty. The day before we made it to Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list back in 2013 I remember the daily book, 5 guests, and to the next day the restaurant was fully booked and within a month, without a single possibility to find a table. It took me 6 months to be able to see the new reality of the restaurant, I just couldn’t believe it, from what I was used to.
Until I was literally kicked out of the office by Gordo, something in my mind really thought that reservations would disappear on the next day. I really thought so. Now people from different places in the world know that we exist, but more than that. People started to travel to Chile just to eat. I know it sounds pretty normal for someone, but please believe that this never ever happened before, mainly because as Chileans, food wasn’t seen as anything more import than as a means of feeding us.