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Cuisine Updated: 31 Oct 2018

A more succulent Chile

Chile has changed. It grew up, matured. It’s no longer that barely autonomous young boy who looked around, borrowing others’ techniques and input. It has even evolved from that adolescent with too much talent but poor judgment.

Picture of Carolina Bazan

This is clear not only in the top restaurants with long tablecloths somewhere on the list of the best 50 places in the world, but also in the young and simple neighborhood eateries.

Chile has changed, and for the better. Today we find a Chile with an identity, a sense of belonging. A Chile whose cuisine appreciates the country’s landscape, people and culture. A Chile that is just as good as the greatest gastronomic powers and what’s even better, a Chile that can live up to itself. Yes. Chile has assumed a position that belonged to it without even knowing. Because looking in the mirror is easy, but recognizing yourself is a bit different.  And straying makes you restless.

The new generations are much more resolute. They are the ones asking us to remember. And to an extent, delaying is dangerous.  A country with no memory is a country with no identity or history, nothing to ground it. And a country without roots is perishable at the least. Rodolfo Guzmán and his team at Boragó have already done a remarkable job in conservation. More than chefs, more than cooks transforming food, they have become collectors, researchers, scholars of a cuisine we didn’t know existed. Seaweed, mushrooms, flowers, sprouts, seeds and an entire encyclopedia are put on the table in permanent homage to who we are without knowing it.

Local cuisine, our cuisine. Cuisine from our territory, even if it’s not completely friendly, because that’s how our edible geography is.  Somewhat comparable to 99 Restaurante, perhaps with a clearer, more direct core.  Here, Kurt Schmidt’s talent for savory food and Gustavo Sáez’s talent for sweet food , who qualified to represent Chile in the Pastry World Championship,  are employed from the first preparations to the final aftertaste.  All five senses form part of a conspiracy. The broths, sauces, meats, pickles and even a kimchi and homemade ginger beer are a party for the palate.  Delicious, elaborate, risky. That’s 99. And it doesn’t need three digits to go farther.


Kurt Schmidt and Gustavo Saez

Kurt Schmidt and Gustavo Saez.

Carolina Bazán’s vision in Ambrosía also represents a step forward. The dishes come from her kitchen that have nothing to do with a literal Chile – there are no tired recipes or 2.0 versions of the same thing – but they do explore the immense pantry of sea and land. Ambrosia’s dishes include an Asian and European touch, and even allow the two to meet face to face.  Tuna from Easter Island is accompanied by Andean quinoa and coconut milk from Southeast Asia; or black truffle from the Ranco Lake flirts with tagliatelle that are clearly Italian.  It is a feminine, delicate, exquisite cuisine with many layers. A highly personal interpretation with a zest she has managed to tame, and the welcome addition of her partner, Rosario Onetto, who rounds out the experience. Eat, drink and be merry.

In barely 12 square meters, Rolando Ortega manages to feed 150 people a day, just at lunch time when he opens. His cuisine at Salvador Cocina y Café is simple, humble, delicious and very much based on family recipes that were passed down from generation to generation. In his micro-restaurant in Santiago, he has set up a micro-world of nostalgic flavors in sepia. His menus changes on a daily basis depending on what is available in local markets. Because everything prepared here is fresh, in season and high quality. It’s all homemade, with a dose of patience served in generous portions. An unwritten law that is more than a law here. It is similar to the food in Maestranza, a small restaurant filled with chalkboards and charming controlled chaos led by Cristián Gaete, a young chef who has modernized his grandparents’ recipes. The menu changes every day and comes from the local neighborhood (Franklin), a popular area with many small markets, fairs and even a butcher shop that can cut up the whole animal in just a few minutes.

They each have a sense of excitement, nostalgia, and a connection to the land and the products. The techniques matter less and less if the products used – as humble as they may be – are top quality. Chefs talk of farmers, the season, fair trade. They are looking for the real thing.  Something the three Roca brothers from Celler de Can Roca (the best restaurant in the world in 2013 and 2015) have been working on in their effort to pay homage to Chile, their people, products, cuisines, landscape and wine. At the end of August, early September, the three-starred chefs will take their entire staff to replicate the Roca experience, but using all that Chile has to offer – the source of their inspiration. The chefs made several trips to Chile to reencounter that diverse and chameleon-like Chile. And all that inspiration will be captured in a series of dinners that will end the 2016 Celler de Can Roca BBVA tour. A powering ending to show Chile that it has grown up, changed, and is much more succulent.