Boragó: Coming from the South - Book Review

Boragó: Coming from the South - Book Review

Chile is the most distant South American country for most of the world. Despite this, Boragó and its much-deserved recognition is a story not just of Rodolfo Guzmán’s (Rudy to his friends) passion and determination, but international recognition in the face of domestic disdain.

Boragó: Coming from the South Review London Lamppost
Rodolfo Guzmán. Picture credit: courtesy Rodolfo Guzmán

Divided into three sections Boragó: Coming from the South, published by Phaidon, takes us from the events leading to the founding of Boragó in 2006 through to it finding success, the geographic locals of Chile and the ingredients they offer up to the restaurant and the process that they go through, before finishing with recipes. This is all set against stunning images by Cristóbal Palma.

Boragó: Coming from the South’s story of how Boragó came to be is a familiar one in South America (Virgilio Martinez’s Central started out in a similar fashion). For much of its recent history Chile looked down on its domestic produce and cuisine, instead importing from abroad. You could find an Italian, Spanish, French or Japanese restaurant with no difficulty, but a Chilean one was another matter. Just as Santiago’s restaurants came from abroad, many of the top chefs did too, and Chileans wanting to train as chefs went overseas. Becoming a chef was a means of escaping the poverty of Chile. To this end Guzmán headed to Europe and found himself working for the great Andoni Luis Aduriz (who has penned the books foreword) at Mugaritz.

It was on returning to his homeland and travelling through its vastly varying geographies that Guzmán started to appreciate the shear variety of ingredients, available yet unused, that Chile holds. And so, in 2006 Boragó was launched on the simple premise of cooking only goods grown in Chile and using them in a way to reflect the country, its geography and seasons, and the cultural history of its populace, 80% of whom have some degree of indigenous blood.

There was the usual problem of over enthusiasm that a chef setting up his first solo project often suffers from, i.e. that of letting creativity rein without controlling it or the finances. There was the issue of poor transport and infrastructure links, making it hard to bring all the ingredients from the furthest reaches of Chile to Santiago and the Boragó kitchen, and shortages were an additional issue on top of that.

Boragó: Coming from the South Review London Lamppost
Sea Urchins from Quintay with Black Luga, Chagual, and Vegetable Milk. Picture credit: Cristóbal Palma (page 107)

Unfortunately the greatest issue was the local press, they hated what Guzmán was doing at Boragó. The restaurant was rarely busy, debts were mounting and the only thing that kept the restaurant going during the 2008 financial crisis was a side catering business. Despite moving to bigger premises and Guzmán’s wife giving up her job to run front of house, things did not improve, and by 2011 the restaurant had been unsuccessfully up for sale for two years. Perhaps somewhat ironically, given the mission statement of Boragó, the saviour of the restaurant was the international foodie. First a major airline listed it as one of the best restaurants in Santiago, helping to fill the tables for a little while, but the major turning point came in 2011 and 2013.

2011 saw the Boragó listed by a European publication along side three star Michelin restaurants, which helped revive the once again flagging reservations after the airline article. But most important was the release in 2013 of the first 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America list, which saw Boragó not just included, but ranked near the top. Since that day the restaurant has been full.

Despite being now successful Boragó: Coming from the South would not have existed if not for the events of 2016, when, as Guzmán recounts, they had learnt enough to start cooking. A surprising concept for a restaurant 10 years in existence already by that stage, but as you read on into the meat of the book it’s clear why. They are equally clear that their cooking will continue to evolve and change. The range of ingredients and the effects of travel and seasons on them make for ingredients that constantly change their behaviour.

The variety of ingredients is mind boggling with many being unfamiliar to those outside of Chile. This is so much the case that they have developed their own system of ordering, storing and working with the ingredients. This has caused many dishes to go through multiple versions not just in development but as finished dishes; The Hunt of the Deer has main and dessert versions, each containing venison.

Boragó: Coming from the South Review London Lamppost
Sea strawberries. Picture credit: Cristóbal Palma (page 50)

What’s perhaps most interesting is the extent that flavours from abroad have inspired dishes; inspiration isn’t just confined to Chile. Miso features. Garum, the umami anchovy sauce so beloved of the ancient Romans has been reimagined in multiple forms and is central to a number of dishes, while Fig Umeboshi comes via Japan and Brazil. Each of course is a unique creation of Guzmán and Boragó, using the local ingredients and their own processes. The photography and dish sketches from Guzmán’s notebook bring the whole thing to life, and each illustrated dish has the recipe later in the book (though they’re not designed for the home cook).

Boragó: Coming from the South is testament to the vision and determination of Guzmán and a degree of external luck thanks, paradoxically given Boragó’s raison d’etre, to the globalisation of food culture. Whether you’ve had the fortune to dine at Boragó or not, this is a chefs monograph that brings you into a remarkable journey and land, imparting ideas and concepts that any food lover or armchair traveller can appreciate and support.

Boragó: Coming from the South

By Rodolfo Guzmán

Publisher: Phaidon Press

Images by Cristóbal Palma

ISBN-10: 0714873977

ISBN-13: 978-0714873978

Available here.