Santiago’s Best Restaurants: Boragó

December 27, 2010This is Chile

Born in Santiago, Rodolfo Guzmán has traversed the length of Chile for ingredients endemic, and often unique, to this corner of the world. He has returned with berries from Patagonia, fish from Easter Island and herbs from Santiago mountainsides. In his kitchen at Boragó, these ingredients come together to create food that Chef Guzmán describes as both ‘wild and rustic,’ and ‘innovative.’

For Guzmán, this means a commitment to Chile’s freshest ingredients and the spirit of the indigenous peoples that first used them. A traditional Mapuche saying – “we cook what the ground can give us now” – serves as Boragó’s guiding principal. Changing as many as five times per season*, the menu of Boragó is as variable and full of surprise as the country it so faithfully and lovingly recreates.

Inspired by his environment

Guzmán’s enthusiasm for the wild comes out in his ingredients; seasonal herbs, flowers and mushrooms are grown in the restaurant’s garden or sometimes foraged in the wild. But Guzmán takes the now-old hat proclivity for the natural, local and seasonal a step further, actually replicating the tastes, smells and textures of the Chilean wilderness in his food.

Combining an encyclopedic knowledge of his homeland’s natural resources with training in some of Spain’s finest kitchens and work in biochemistry at Universidad Católica, Guzmán creates food of uncanny beauty, vivid flavor and giddy creativity.

Four years and several awards after his restaurant’s opening, Guzmán remains clear-sighted and humble about its aims.  “We aren’t trying to show off,” he says matter-of-factly. “We just want to give people an experience.”

Today, Boragó is not only a workshop for exploring the possibilities of Chilean ingredients and techniques, it is also an international training ground. In the last year, chefs have come from around Latin America, the United States and Europe for exposure to Guzmán’s singular approach and the singular ingredients only available in the isolated, southwestern fringe of the Americas.

Even at its most theatrical and exquisite, Guzmán’s food is imbued with youthful energy and the raw tastes and smells of Chile’s most far-flung regions. Liquid nitrogen and blowtorches aside, Guzmán’s food truly is wild, emphasizing flavors out of the past and their relevancy in the cuisine of the present.

Guzmán’s goal, stated without pretension or boast, was to create a restaurant unique in the world. What he has done is create a restaurant that is simultaneously avant garde and deeply rooted in its place. And of course, a restaurant that could only exist in Chile.

The tastes, smells and textures of Chile

In a spare, white dining room, filled with quiet jazz and slick, soft-footed servers, the focal point is the kitchen, separated from diners by a glass wall and lit as brightly as a stage set. In the kitchen as in the dining room, everything runs like clockwork—calm, professional and unerringly precise. ‘Wild and rustic’ are about the last words that come to mind here.

Yet it is the flavors, smells and textures of the Chilean wilderness and the rustic techniques of indigenous communities that inspire the eight impeccably sequenced courses of the Endémica tasting menu. “We try to cook in ways that indigenous people might and understand why they did,” Guzmán says.

In the course of a summer tasting, this means a mild and earthy spread that looks like the fertile soil of Chile’s central valleys, and crispy herbal puffs that resemble the black rocks thrown by Chile’s active volcanoes. Live flames and woodsmoke nod to man’s first cooking techniques, and extreme temperatures achieved with liquid nitrogen induce the intense chill of the southern hemisphere’s largest glacier fields.

Guzmán makes his point early on. The first course arrives hanging like so many apples from the branches of a small, potted tree—chips of dried beet dotted with artichoke emulsion and adorned with a tiny, delicate garlic flower are flavorful out of all proportion to their diminutive size. Warm bread is served with a mild and coyly titled ‘soil’ pesto, made with dehydrated herbs and squid ink.

Asparagus and potatoes arrive in a silver pail, a bundle of Tepú branches (gathered from the Maipo Valley just outside the city center) and cinnamon underneath are lit at table with a blowtorch. The dish smells and tastes of a campfire, with a flavorful, smoky wallop usually only accomplished in the open air—Guzmán wasn’t kidding when he described his cooking as rustic.

Next, a delicate langoustine salad is served with flowers and wild herbs instead of pepper. Barely-cooked pieces of rich, satiny Kora Kora – fished from Easter Island – are served over the same ‘soil’ from the first course, here puffed into the shape of volcanic rocks, and a wild herb emulsion that tastes of clover leaves and grass: sweet, bright and clean.

Decadent sous vide short ribs arrive alongside earthenware cups of leaves handpicked by Guzmán’s team from the slopes of Mount Manquehue, one of the snow-capped Andean peaks visible from Boragó’s front lawn, into which the server pours liquid nitrogen in a theatrical flourish. A white fog rolls over the table carrying the scent of the high Andes. It is shockingly effective in cutting the rich, sweet short ribs. In the final dessert, a mint meringue, also dipped in liquid nitrogen, turns your breath cold and white as you exhale. It tastes and feels like the ice fields of Patagonia.

*The menu now changes daily.

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