Chefs reinvent Chilean cuisine using native ingredients

Employing ancient ingredients used by Chile’s original dwellers, modern Chilean chefs are inventing a new gastronomy that is independent of international trends.

While Chile may have shied away from its gastronomical heritage for many years, innovative chefs all over the country are now reconnecting with the Andean nation’s roots by way of local ingredients and seasoning.

«Chile is a country with a wide range of geographical contrasts and climates,” Sergio Barroso, Spanish chef at restaurant Alegre in Valparaíso, told Saveur. “[This] poses a very interesting challenge for a chef.”

Barroso described how the most creative Chilean and international chefs in Chile are rising to this challenge and inventing a new style of high-class cuisine that is independent of international trends.

“Chilean chefs are searching for something genuine, local and of high quality, and they are learning how to take advantage of their resources,» Barroso said.

Chefs are now looking to rediscover and reconceive preparations for ancient ingredients that have since fallen out of use in mainstream Chilean cuisine. One example of this is quinoa, an Andean grain-like seed labeled a ‘superfood’ for the protein it packs. Merkén—a smoked and ground hot pepper salted and seasoned with coriander of indigenous Mapuche origin—has also made a comeback.

Daniel Molina, chef at the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge, combs the surrounding deserts of northern Chile in hopes of discovering new herbs and ingredients to use in his dishes. One novel result is his signature pisco sour, which is infused with rica rica, “a minty-rosemary-like herb,” Chantal Martineau wrote for Saveur.

Besides his own culinary exhibitions, Molina attends local religious ceremonies hoping to discover new herbs. He explained that the local population has a keen and profound knowledge of native plant life.

«They try to use all the things that grow here,» Molina said.

Rodolfo Guzmán, Chilean chef for Boragó in Santiago, offers what Martineau described as “educational dinner theater, each dish accompanied by a geographical and cultural lesson.”

For a list of restaurants who are experimenting with local ingredients and techniques visit Saveur’s website.