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12 September 2014

Tonight's Episode: Tasting Chile from top to bottom



Look at that picture. It's a bonsai tree. With eggs. You eat the eggs. Coming from the bonsai tree. Nothing I can say will explain to you what is going on here. Sure I can tell you about the taste and texture (pretty delicious) and try somehow to explore with you the intricacies of technique and origin of product for each course, but frankly that would be pointless. That is the greatest problem with explaining Chile's amazing and innovative restaurant BORAGó  to you, person of the internet. It isn't a meal in the strictest sense. It is a sensory experiment. It is a transitory art instillation. It is a thoughtfully crafted love letter to the produce of Chile. It is intimidating and whimsical and challenging and inclusive. 

Okay, I've admitted I can't narrate our dinner. 12 courses with an array of snacks, all paired with the sublime wines of Chile. I simply can't do it, even though I have the menu in my hand right now. What I can do is explain to you a little of why BORAGó is perhaps the most important restaurant in Chile's capital of Santiago. 

First you have to understand the philosophy of the restaurant. Chile, a very narrow nation perched between the Andes and the Pacific, has never been renowned for its produce (like Argentina) or it's innovative cuisine (like Peru). It does, however, have one of the most varied ecosystems you will come across. Chef Rodolfo Guzmán and his staff have devoted themselves to highlighting the bounty of that ecosystem. They forage for fresh ingredients from across the country. We aren't just talking the normal mushrooms or venison, we are talking red crustaceans that look like a ballon and a red pepper had a love child and clover that actually tastes amazingly bright and citrusy. 

Some of what...okay most of what....the chef and staff are foraging aren't even regularly staples of Chilean cuisine. In a lot of ways, Chile seems to have accepted the assigned monotony of its cuisine, preferring to be derivative as opposed to original. I can not count the number of risottos (Italy) and ceviches (Peru) The Girl and I ate on this vacation. That isn't a complaint; they were well executed and delicious, but they don't speak to Chile in any meaningful way. Chef Guzmán's goal seems to be to show the people of Chile that they have more to offer the food world than artful reflections of other nation's culinary heritage. To that end he and his staff have turned BORAGó into a sensory exploration of what is and what could be.

If that sounds pretentious to you, you aren't alone. It is hard to look at the dishes (presented below) and not wonder if the chef is more concerned with presentation than preparation. Nothing I can say will be enough to persuade you that the presentations are thoughtful representations of the produce and the environment from which it comes. Nothing on the menu will become a new national dish. There is no arroz con pollo hidden here. That is not the intention. For those of us visiting Santiago, we gain the opportunity to visit all of Chile in one meal. For the Chilean, however, there is something deeper, an opportunity to take everyday assumptions and flip them on their head. Perhaps the greatest gift BORAGó gives to the people of Chile is a chance to ask themselves "what is our culinary identity?" BORAGó will offer no answers, only more questions, and for that the Chilean people should be grateful.

The art and artifice of this restaurant are superb. Every course is presented with an explanation from the kitchen of the where and the why of the products presented. It is a full sensory experience, touch, taste, appearance, scent, all brought together by the chef explaining how each dish is reflective of the nation he loves so dearly and obviously. This isn't molecular gastronomy. This isn't modernist cuisine. This is Chile, from rocks of the shore to the stunted trees of the Andean highlands. 


Purple potato "snack" 
Foreground: Salty Berliner
Background: chicharron

 Breadsticks. Sticks. That are bread

 Crustaceans. The Girl's least favorite dish. Very challenging texture. Very interesting flavor

 Crudo of Venison, hidden in the trees. 


 Veal. Tasty, tasty veal


Mushrooms  
Uni
Clovers

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