When it first opened a couple of years ago, I went to Santiago, Chile’s restaurant Boragó for dessert. It was a beautiful space and my sweet was delightful. Then I forgot about it. Recently I saw Italian chef Massimo Bottura tweeting about his meal there. It wasn’t at all what I remembered. I had to go back.
Boragó has evolved into the Chilean restaurant, focusing on Chilean products and Chilean dishes, which I have long expected would be found here. Almost three thousand miles in length, Chile has a range of products – found in different latitudes and altitudes – that is unparalleled on this earth. Chef Rodolfo Guzmán and his kitchen forage for an herb that is only found in a certain mountain range after the rain to spice up a rockfish. They are picking algae from the coast and utilizing Patagonian berries that rarely see light in Santiago restaurants. There’s a buzz here. Something is happening. Something big.
The tasting menu, called Endemica, is quite bold right from the start when a small clay pot of what looks like dirt with a single herb is brought out before you. It’s not dirt, but ají pebre. Pichanga, a typical Chilean market snack of pickled veggies with ham and cheese, is recreated with algae and snails. In the Huevos al Rescoldo, a perfectly slow cooked egg is covered in ash.
“Rescoldo (cooking with embers) is a Mapuche method of cooking that occurs in the south of Chile where they cook in the ground with native wood in the sand,” Guzmán told me by email after my visit. “The preparation for this is like a very, very fine bread which we bake and then once it’s dry we break it to give the appearance of embers. And we prepare it the same as you would prepare compost for a garden, using old herbs, old bread, old seeds, which we mix with water and squid ink.”
The dish that really caught my attention, perhaps the most interestng thing I have eaten in Chile, EVER, is the curanto. This dish that hails from Chiloè, a breathtaking archipeligo off of Puerto Montt, where it’s served often at festivals and celebrations. Cooked in a hole in the ground, it’s a heavy mix of shellfish, sausage, lamb, potatoes, and basically whatever else is availble. It’s served with milcaos, doughy potato cakes. It’s an overwhelming amount of food and usually prepared so rustically that it is sometimes inedible. Guzmán’s preparation at Boragó is curanto concentrated in a glass jar surrounded by actual dirt and twigs, with a tiny but edible milcao stuck inside. It’s the very essence of Chile condensed into a broth.
“We spent years and years thinking about how we could do to replicate the experience of eating this chilote preparation in a hole. This preparation represents “la minga.” We thought for some time that we would make a hole in the garden but that would be complex, and the truth is that it was much easier than we imagined,” he said. “What we do is simply cook this rustic flavor preparation with rainwater, this gives us the impression of a delicate texture in the mouth that is almost as delicate as the rain that falls in Chiloé.”
“The preparation consists of a smoker inside of a pit filled with shellfish, fish and the meat of a hen, then we prepare a broth, which is clarified with an algae called cochayuyo, which gives you that translucency, almost like a tea, then put a small bowl into a bucket with soil. We believe this is an experience very close to tasting a curanto in Chiloé, but with rain water taste of Patagonia, which connects us to this very particular environment of the planet.”
Experience is something that has been missing from dining in Santiago. The desserts emphasize that this isn’t the case at Boragó. In one a small plop of cream is served on a large plate, but diners are asked to lick it off the plate, holding it to their face with two hands. In another, glaciers frozen with liquid nitrogen, appear still smoking. The waiter explains that there is no time to even take a picture. You have to eat it now. It melts in your mouth and smoke rolls out of your nostrils like a dragon.
Guzmán tells me something special is being planned for the menu in March. You couldn’t keep me away.
Avenida Nueva Costanera 3467