Interview with Chef Rodolfo Guzmán of Boragó - Santiago, Chile

December 2011

Emily Bell: What is it like being a chef in Chile today?
Rodolfo Guzmán: It’s special for a restaurant such as Boragó. Take the native peoples. We’re trying to take the same kind of cooking methods—very rustic and raw—and mix that up with avant-garde cuisine. We’re trying to do something very special, very unique in this planet. We only cook things that only exist in Chile and nowhere else with this kind of method. We’re trying to reflect all the environments of Chile in the dish.

EB: That sounds ambitious. And challenging. How do you gather your inspiration, your materials?
RG: I go all over the country, I travel, looking for whatever exists—all over. For example, there are things that grow at 3000 meters—different kinds of forests that grow different kinds of mushrooms, only there, on that part of the planet. It’s the same with fish, the same with seafood. From that point it’s going to be something very important for us. We try to reflect what’s really happening at moment in Chile.

EB: What was it like for you when you first started?
RG: It was very, very hard at the beginning. But the whole scene in Santiago has been changing a lot. When we opened four years ago, it was a ‘gastronomic restaurant’—Boragó was something out of [diners’] minds. Today it’s a totally different scene. Everyone is coming to the restaurant to see what we’re going to do.It was like there was no way to survive as a restaurant, as a business. But we did. It was taking the risk. We’re trying to cross the line, trying to be a unique place in this part of the the end of the world.

EB: Have things changed since?
RG: Today it’s a totally different scene. Everyone is coming to the restaurant to see what we’re going to do. It doesn’t matter what anyone else would cook because they wanted to try it. Nothing else like that happened before.

EB: So what is your creative process like? How do you come up with a concept for a dish?
RG: It all depends. There are a lot of methods. We might come up with a technique that allows us to reflect the environment of Chile. Or there might be a fantastic product and we’ll decide to do a very new dish. Today it’s totally different for us than years ago. We used to have two tasting menus and most of the dishes used to be there for years. But this year, the tasting menu changes every day. That means that we only cook what the environment is eager to give us at the moment. So we are going to be sure you’re going try something you’ve never tried in your life. It’s from this part of the planet. Something wild, something totally raw, something special.

EB: How does having such a surprising pantry impact your cuisine, your concept, from year to year?
RG: The cool thing about it is that we don’t even know everything that’s out there. It’s amazing. It’s fantastic. If you live in Europe, we all know what they have. They know all the mushrooms, fishes, meats, everything. It’s been there for ages. It’s not like that here. We don’t even know what we have up in the mountains. In the forest. Down in the sea. Because it’s a very different country. It’s amazing. We’re totally surprised. That’s why I believe Chile has to be one of the main countries that is part of the culinary future of the world. It’s totally unknown. It’s something unexpected.

EB: It sounds like your pantry just keeps growing. Any recent surprises?
RG: Copao—the most sour fruit I ever tried in my life. There are so many mushrooms, 32 kinds that only exist in Chile. There are thousands of kinds of fish that you can only find here. You can find more herbs and flowers up in the mountains than you ever see in your life. It’s amazing. We have more tan 4700 kilometers of coast. Even though in the summer the water is so cold, the sea life is amazing. The vegetables, they’re something amazing about them. It’s endless. It’s totally endless. The white strawberry, that’s a truly wild product. We have to do nothing. It’s just the environment that speaks for itself. That’s what we do at Boragó. We don’t cook. We allow the environment to cook for itself.

EB: You clearly can’t call your restaurant “locavore” because it’s regionally expressive of all of Chile. How does sourcing work?
RG: It’s so hard to get things in the restaurant at proper time. It’s not like the United States. In New York, you can get things from Portland in a day. You can get things from all over. Here everything is wild. So it’s kind of hard for us to get. Over the last four years, it’s been a problem getting the product in the restaurant in the proper amount of time.

EB: How did you overcome that? You must have to develop relationships all over.
RG: We did a great job with that. Now we’re all set. We have everything. We have a relationship with our purveyors, a very, very close relationship. We have to travel all the time, to the island, to Patagonia, to the North, to the center, and up to the mountain to find the things we need. We collect everything. It’s a collection. We have these relationships. We’re very close with the people.

EB: It sounds like this was an uphill battle—finding your product, developing relationships, incorporating that kind of travel and sourcing into your business.
RG: It was really hard. If somebody told me that this was this hard I’m not sure we’d do it. But nobody did. And at this point, we have everything. We know everything about Chile. We know what we’re going to have season to season.

EB: So tell me about the regions you’re sourcing from. Are you trying to showcase them, culturally, for instance?
RG: More than a style or anything, we’re trying to reflect their time and place. Think about the [Atacama] desert—one of the driest in the world. In spring we get flowers from the desert. It’s an amazing phenomenon. We took those flowers and did a dessert, a "desert dessert of the North." It was such an amazing treat for someone that’s never been in Chile. So we try to reflect the environment at same time we use the product, with regional motivation and technique.

EB: And you’re covering the country, from north to south?
RG: Absolutely. We need to know everything.

EB: That’s a tall order. So to speak. How many times a year do you travel?
RG: There is no number. It could be 10, it could five. It all depends on the year. In a year it could be 12 or maybe 20 trips, all over the country. We used to travel more than now. It’s not really necessary any more. We know a lot about it. Anytime we go anywhere we learn more and more.

EB: You trained under Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz. How would you describe his impact on your cuisine?
RG: I’d been working in many other restaurants. Mugaritz was break through point in my life. Working with Andoni was something very special. But at the same time I thought I wanted to do something that totally different. At Mugaritz I learned about philosophy, I learned about the product, taking care of the product, really, what that really means to us—that connection between humans and nature. And that of course opened my eyes. Right after that when I came back to Chile, I started working in different restaurants till I opened my own. I decided to do something that could be unique in the world, something that only you could find in Chile, at Boragó, nowhere else. Working in Mugaritz has been a great, great experience.

EB: But it sounds like now you’re somewhere that’s entirely your own.
RG: We are at a point that we have to look at ourselves. The best thing has been here all along. It’s been here, around us, for many years.

EB: What do you mean by that?
RG: For many years we believed that everything that was the best in the world was on the other side of the country. That everything that came from Europe, Asia, even from America. But now we can find ourselves in a garden that we know is the best thing in the world, it just grows inside of us.

EB: And do you think the international culinary community is catching on?
RG: There is no doubt. There has to be people interested in what is really happening here. It’s amazing, unique. We have all the seasons in different places. If you go south, you might find in Patagonia it’s going to be almost winter all year round, snowing and everything. If you’re going up north you’re going to find almost summer year round. You can really find yourself when you find that season. So there’s definitely something special.

EB: It’s taken some time for Chile to emerge, if that’s what’s happening. Do you think it’ll really become a bastion of modern cuisine?
RG: Why not gastronomy, why not avant garde? Now is the Chilean time. Our cuisine, it’s going to be happening now. It’s going to be the time now. I’m pretty sure there are young chefs that are trying to show that. And it's going to be happening very soon.