In Chile, Molecular Gastronomy and Locavores Collide

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Araceli Zuñiga


On a recent press trip to Chile, a couple of journalists and I went rogue, breaking from our busy schedules of meeting artisanal food producers for one night on the town. But between us—a Brazilian, a Mexican, a Russian, a Spaniard, and myself—we simply couldn't decide on a restaurant. So our little gang decided to make like Americans and crawl, from one spot to the next, enjoying a few dishes and drinks at each place. We hailed a minivan taxi in the concrete-heavy financial district and got off at Avenue Vitacura, a chic, tree-lined boulevard that hosts a trio of Santiago's youngest fine-dining joints.

Overhearing us discussing the food, Palomo's mother pulled up a chair and proudly told us how her son had spent time in the kitchens of Juan Mari Arzak, Ferran Adrià, and Daniel Boulud.

We began at Sukalde, with Matías Palomo, a young Mexican-born chef with a passion for Chilean ingredients, who later accompanied me grocery shopping, to scout out local foods like ulmo honey, made from the white blossoms of the ulmo tree, which flowers for only one month each year, starting now. (I had the last of this honey jar this morning, it was so fragrant and irresistible I wanted to dab it on my wrists like perfume.)

Palomo has converted an old Santiago mansion, preserving the structure of the family home and restoring the original fixtures in most cases, but incorporating a touch, here and there, of modern design and furniture. The new, mostly steel kitchen is encased in glass, and makes for a lovely view if you're seated in the casual, graveled backyard. During the day, Palomo serves high-low pub fare like burgers with homemade mustard. But come nighttime (and I mean night, Chileans dine late), his energetic mother runs the front of house and the menu goes upscale.

To create my favorite bite, Palomo bakes purple cornflour and salt into ring molds, to form tiny jewelry boxes. Inside, he places a bijou-sized piece of Konco (a fatty white fish from the deep, cold waters of Easter Island) dusted with chili powder and salt, and wrapped in parchment paper. Palomo makes use of the classic French technique, en papillotte, but shrinks it down to tapas size—it should have been a perfect, single bite, but I couldn't resist the temptation to cut it in half, and make two.

At one point, overhearing us discussing the food, Palomo's mother pulled up a chair and proudly told us how her son had spent time in the kitchens of Juan Mari Arzak, Ferran Adrià, and Daniel Boulud. It shows. Palomo's dishes, which he creates with the assistance of nearly 20 cooks, are super-refined and playful.

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Araceli Zuñiga

From there, we went next door to Rodolfo Guzmán's restaurant, Borago. For anyone expecting starchy, dressed-up street food in Santiago's fancy restaurants, this place will no doubt change your mind. Deeply influenced by the Basque restaurant Mugaritz, where Guzmán worked for a little over a year, the tasting menu highlights foraged Chilean ingredients in a modern, luxurious space.

Presented by

Tejal Rao

Tejal Rao is a writer and translator from Northwest London, living in
Brooklyn. She is a restaurant critic for the Village Voice. Follow her on Twitter or learn more at www.tejalrao.com.

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