Chilean Chef Rodolfo Guzman: Cooking On The Edge Of The World, Part 2

This is the second installment in a three-part interview with chef Rodolfo Guzman. You can find the first installment here and the third installment here.

The Daily Meal: You are transforming Chilean traditions in your work. Why is it important to you?
Chef Rodolfo Guzman: Traditions are beautiful but if to those you can add knowledge you can move traditions to the next step. Then we can create something even more interesting for the future.

What is unique about Boragó? Should diners be ready for the unexpected?
I have thought our guests experience new flavors which are new to them and they have no prior food memories of. Our ingredients are unique, super seasonal and expose them to novel concepts and make dining here a unique experience.

Your cooking style has been described as one of reviving ancient techniques and using traditional and forgotten ingredients. How are you linking these old stories to new stories on your plates?
I want to specify that it is what we are trying to do whether we are successful in this or not we don't know. The restaurant opened nine years ago in a country that has influences from every culture that came here like the Spanish. At that time not the best things but most things perceived as good were coming from outside the country. So we were adapting to these influences and products and ignoring our own culture. The indigenous Mapuchas are one of the oldest native cultures in South America having been around 12,400 years or so long before the Spaniards or the Incas.

In 2006 we started our work at Boragó by concentrating on products growing in specific areas of Chile, a part of our Mapuche heritage. Most of our recipes are based on native ingredients so we are looking back in time while moving forward. We want to say we are Chileans and we have a diversity of ingredients with a lot of possibility behind them. We started doing a tasting menu based only on these ingredients and ancient cooking methods of Mapuches, real Chilean preparations.

Are these ingredients seasonal?
Yes some of them grow only for a few months or weeks or maybe even one week during the year. We wait for these to appear for very traditional preparations. We work with over 200 small producers and foragers to supply us through a huge chain. I traveled a lot all over the country and built relationships with these people, some of whom are Mapuches. When you come to the restaurant you don't see these people but the truth is without them we cannot prepare or serve the food that we do. These relationships didn't develop overnight but are the result of nine years of work.

While exploring this biodiversity of the Chilean landscape, is there risk of over using or exploiting some of these products or species?
There are so many things involved in this process and you have to be very responsible, work with the right people, and be very conscious of the impact on the environment and ecosystem. Fortunately here in Chile the seafood is well protected and regulated by law. We have a huge sustainable movement. In order to have these resources in the future we are very protective.

How are you incorporating these ancient cooking practices in your cuisine?
We are not pretending to cook like they did 2,000 years ago. We have a very contemporary approach to food and all we are doing is moving these techniques from the past to the present.

Are you and your team collecting ingredients while hiking and exploring on a regular basis?
I know that today it's a very trendy thing to go and forage but we do it for a purpose in order to bring the flavors of the landscape to the plate. We are trying to show what Chile and Chilean food is about. One day we could be at 3,000 meters and the next day down at the beach or in the forest. There is a lot of culture behind the use of these ingredients. I want to specify that it's not about where our house is but about the content of our restaurant no matter where it is located. We are constantly learning and exploring for these ingredients which is the future of our planet as we run out of resources.

You think tapping these unused resources or ingredients will be important in the near future?
Yes because we have to find alternate ways to feed us and our children. We cannot keep using the same fish from the ocean as they are disappearing and strangely Mapuches were eating seaweed which is an amazing food source all along. The future of our planet is raw plants and we have to adapt. The waters of the Pacific off our coast are very pristine and the quality of our seafood is amazing. I feel that people around the world are not aware of what Chile is about.

Why the interest in the Atacama Desert?
According to me and our team it is the next frontier and the beginning of a new Chilean food revolution. There are ingredients growing at 3,000 to 5,000 meters that we had no idea about. These ingredients are perfect for regular recipes and can be thrown into whatever you are cooking. By using these we can help a lot of indigenous communities to survive economically who are foraging these and bringing them to Santiago. The bonus is that these products are delicious and have health benefits.

As a parent, what concerns you about the scarcity of resources in the future?
I ask the question, "What is food about? Do we really know enough about food?" I feel we still don't know much about food and need to learn more. There are challenging times coming up for the world and for Chile where I live and we really need to comprehend this. At the restaurant we try to cook delicious food with these original ingredients while learning more about them. We are not pretending to be a special restaurant but just trying to be honest with ourselves. I would say the learning process for us is super important.

Are you investigating the health aspects of ingredients in your test kitchen?
We have been learning a lot from our associations with biologists, doctors, archaeologists, etc. it is the only way to evolve and become knowledgeable about what we are aiming for in our taste. As a cook you evolve from knowing nothing to learning basics of cooking like baking bread, cooking fish, meat or vegetables. That is the first evolution and the second is when you become a parent and start questioning if something is healthy to ingest. These are the questions that we try to learn and investigate for the future. I think about things like mushrooms should I cook it or can I safely serve it raw .We work with an amazing ecologist who has taught us a lot and as a result of what we learnt from her we no longer serve raw mushrooms since 2013 so I can say we are constantly evolving.

This is the second installment in a three-part interview with chef Rodolfo Guzman. You can find the first installment here and the third installment here.