Chilean Chef Rodolfo Guzman: Cooking On The Edge Of The World, Part 1

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

There are many theories about how the country of Chile got its name, one being that it is derived from a Native American word for "ends of the earth." Looking at a world map Chile appears as a narrow ribbon bordering Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina whittling down to a point at Cape Horn. Next stop, Antarctica! Widely known for its biological diversity, it also has varied terrain and a medley of climates. Added to that is an interesting mix of cultures due to a largely migrant population resulting in a unique food culture. No one could have predicted ten years ago that it would become a gastronomic destination and instead of adventurous tourists and cruisers en route to the Antarctic island there would be gastro tourists trying to snag reservations at restaurants such as chef Rodolfo Guzman's Boragó in Santiago.

This past September at Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants awards in Mexico City, chef Rodolfo Guzman of Boragó, Chile stepped onto the stage accompanied by thunderous applause from his peers, media and well-wishers as his restaurant was recognized as the second best in the region. Guzman was also voted the chefs chef by his compadres and ended up walking away with two awards during the ceremonies. The nine year old Boragó was at the fifth spot last year and has been steadily climbing up, earning international recognition and acclaim for the team led by Guzman. The young personable chef who trained at Mugaritz in Spain with Andoni Aduriz, no less, has placed Chile squarely on the international gastronomic map and it is now the top restaurant in the country.

Guzman worked at Mugaritz during its early years when chef Aduriz and team would be gazing expectantly down the long winding road in the Basque countryside in hopes of customers to cook for. Not surprisingly that more than just culinary skills Guzman took the lessons of perseverance, patience and hard work with him home to Chile and opened Boragó in the Vitacura district of Santiago. According to Guzman, besides Mugaritz he has worked and trained in many other prestigious kitchens before venturing out on his own. It has not been an easy journey but a worthwhile one allowing Guzman to develop his very distinct culinary persona. At Boragó, minimalist decor plays off the seasonal menus featuring produce sourced from the Andes, Patagonia, and the coast. Recently, the Atacama Desert has attracted the attention of Guzman and his team who have now extended their foraging and research expeditions into this thus far gastronomically unexplored territory.

As a father of three young children, Guzman admits he has a vested interest in researching and preserving the bio diversity of Chile for future generations. The relationship between health and food is another area of his interest and he is working with researchers at the Catholic University of Chile on Bioprocesses and micro structures. This ongoing teamwork with neurologists, psychologists, and nutritionists leads to constant changes of concepts and treatment of products in the Boragó test kitchen, eventually working its way onto plates served to guests. Until two years ago there were products like mushrooms that they were used in the raw state but in light of his research they are now always cooked before being served. It is apparent that Guzman, not bound by any dogmas, is very receptive to new ideas and consequently very flexible, constantly striving to learn and evolve, a common trait of creative minds.

In a recent conversation he spoke about his experience in Paris at Septime during the Gelinaz Shuffle and his work in Boragó, his interest in the indigenous Chilean food culture and his vision of the future of Chilean gastronomy.

The Daily Meal: How was your experience at Septime during the Gelinaz shuffle this July?
Chef Rodolfo Guzman:
It was fantastic as I really admire Bertrand for his work, beautiful team and restaurant. I was super excited to be a part of this whole experience of sharing and learning. I spent five days in Paris and I had a chance to eat at Clamato which I loved. In fact I told Bertrand I am so jealous of both your beautiful restaurants and food. I love Paris and dining in the city but this time I was concentrating on work.

How did you begin your work on your menu in the Septime kitchen?
I tried to understand how Bertrand runs his operation and why and how he cooks that way. He and his team choose beautiful products to work with and I tried to put aside my own way of cooking and really wanted to cook just like him. I did different dishes of course while using some Chilean preparations and techniques.

What was the "Bad Bertrand" about?
I asked Bertrand for some things he would never ever do as a French cook or at Septime. Unfortunately for him he told me and so of course I had to do those. There was no question about it!
Bad Bertrand is a mix of butter, olive oil, citrus fruits, and vinegar.

Didn't you have a similar situation in your kitchen during the shuffle with Ana Ros from Hisa Franko in Slovenia making pasta, which you would never do in your kitchen?
Exactly, that made it fun. I wasn't here myself but from what I heard from my sous chefs and team about it I felt that they all shared a lot and learned a lot.

Ana Ros is a self-taught chef while you have trained formally. Do you think such training is necessary for a cook or can they just cook from their heart?
I feel that cooking is more about emotions, feelings, thoughts and memories, and some part of it is related to the arts. Cooking is not officially an art but I feel all cooks are artisans and at some levels it is an intellectual process. It has to come from deep within you and representative of humanity and something we all experience in our lives. We pass it on through generations like a story. My grandfather taught me something about cooking which I must pass forward to my children.

Experience makes you better just like a Japanese master who perfects his craft for years but the learning process in this field is very deep, ambiguous and wide and that makes it difficult to say whether you should or should not train. Knowledge gained makes you better because you can help transform traditions which tend to become stagnant otherwise. Whether with training or not it is still possible to cook well and I don't think of myself as a super trained cook anyway.

Lately young cooks are flitting from one stage to another to create a resume that might list 10 restaurants in a year what is your take on this phenomenon?
I don't give a damn for resumes like that. People come to me with such resumes which mean nothing to me since we are cooks and artisans and in such a brief time you cannot really get a notion of what a restaurant is about. I think a year is a good length of time. Our interns here are very important to us and we have a vested interest in training them well.

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