By Tom Tanner, the Sustainable Restaurant Association
Passionate. It’s an oft over and sometimes mis-used word. And when it comes to describing someone from South America, the p-word could well be said to be cliched. The first winner of the Sustainable Restaurant Award at Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and the two runners-up can most assuredly be labelled as passionate. The trio, Boragó in Chile, Corazon de Tierra Guadalupe in Mexico and Narda Comedor in Argentina are each tackling at least one major food issue with a fervour that to not describe them as passionate would be doing them a disservice.
To dine at Boragó (winners of the award) is to taste Chile. Chef Rodolfo Guzman views every dish as an opportunity to demonstrate ingredients from one of the world’s largest endemic larders. He will leave no stone unturned, quite literally, in order to tantalise his customers with the tastes and textures his country has to offer. That’s best illustrated in his showcasing of the 750 varieties of seaweed.
In the decade or so since he opened the doors, Rodolfo and his team have travelled the considerable length of the country to find the widest possible range of flavours and foods. A network of more than 200 people, grow, rear or forage the ingredients, some with tiny three-week season from Patagonia. Closer to home, the restaurant is lucky enough to have its own biodynamic farm just a half hour drive away which provides vegetables, milk and ducks.
Rodolofo has documented every step of this edible journey of discovery and now, keen to inspire his fellow countrymen to appreciate their luscious larder just as much as he does, he has published online an encyclopaedia – everything from mushrooms to berries. This is his gift to the nation. The gift of a man who is passionate about his country’s food.
About 900 miles away in Buenos Aires, a new restaurant is causing a stir. Chef and founder Narda Lepes, is on a mission to push plant-based menu in the capital of the country which consumes more beef than every nation bar one. Most Argentines might not be quite ready for vegetarian or even vegan menus, but Narda is determined to start to change their eating habits. So, with the help of her fellow chefs she’s created a range of dishes which are veg-heavy with meat playing more of a cameo role. And, to tempt even the most diehard carnivores, Narda is using the power of language, heroing individual vegetables and ingredients. “Don’t say you ate fish with vegetables, name the ingredients: bonito with carrots, lettuce, and yamani rice. And please, stop saying salad! ‘I ate a steak with salad.’ What is that?! What type of salad?! What’s inside?!” That sounds like a pas****ate chef to me too.
The third of our trio exhibits exactly the same level of drive. Taking advantage of the restaurant’s unique location, the team at Corazon de Tierra Guadalupe, works absolutely in tune with the seasons. The winter months sees chefs take to the water in the Sea of Cortez to spear their own fish, collect mussels and percebes and forage for at least five different kinds of seaweed. When the lamb, reared on a neighbour’s farm appears on the menu, having been slaughtered and butchered by the chefs, it does so with its own special seasonal flavour – the wild basil on which they graze. The local and seasonal theme extends way beyond the food – as all of the furniture and crockery is made by artists in the area.
That completes the triumvirate of restaurants which are not just feeding the customers with high class food, but leading them towards a better food future too, giving them the opportunity to use the power of the appetites wisely and winningly.