Archive | January, 2014

Gustu | La Paz | Jan ’14 | “food as world changer”

30 Jan
  • Address: Calle 10, No. 300, La Paz, Bolivia
  • Number: 591 (2) 2117491
  • Website:
  • Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12pm – 3pm, 7pm – 11pm
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $80
  • Courses: (10 main/14 total) 2 amuse / 1 bread / 7 savory / 3 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $8
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 170 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 12 minutes
  • Chef: Kamilla Seidler (ex. Geist), Michelangelo Cestari
  • Style: New Andean

In recent months I have heard of the “gentrification effect”, where a hip new restaurant (placed in the wrong part of town), or a social coffeehouse (in Melbourne’s backstreets) changes a sketchy area for the better. Heavy foot traffic makes viable an ecosystem of other restaurants (perhaps to handle the spillover effect), bars, coffee houses. It is reminiscent of the big-push theory of creating a top-notch research university – “hire at least two superstars to your university department, and watch as other bright postdocs trip over themselves to work with them”.

Location, while an important factor, appears to be more of a “moderating variable” than a causal one, Parsa says, ruling that “a poor location can be overcome by a great product and operation, but a good location cannot overcome bad product or operation.” – The Restaurant Failure Myth, Businessweek

I think the establishment of Gustu in Bolivia (one of the poorer countries in Latin America) – an international opening covered by the NYTimes, the FT, and Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton – accomplishes three things. The first, geographic, is it may make a gastronomic hub of the well-to-do Calacoto suburb in La Paz. The second, economic, is that it establishes a type of opportunity, to work in the cutting edge of gastronomy, that was not there before. The third, gastronomic, is that it showcases Bolivian ingredients as not seen before. The social mission of Gustu is highly admirable – no other gastronomic project on the planet is taking as much risk as opening in Bolivia. But since locals are not the primary target of Gustu, whether the restaurant thrives will depend on its ability to turn out great food in order to attract foodie tourists. And that was what I spent one night in La Paz to find out.


What Gustu is (besides a restaurant):

  • noma’s co-owner Claus Meyer has a non-profit foundation, the Melting Pot Foundation.
  • In 2010, the Melting Pot Foundation decided to start a food school in Bolivia. [source]

The cooking school, which is an integral part of the restaurant GUSTU, gives the socially disadvantaged young people in South America’s poorest country an education as culinary entrepreneurs, and the pro­ject draws on Claus Meyer’s experience in the establishment of noma and the New Nordic Cuisine movement. – Melting Pot

Why have we picked Bolivia?
Bolivia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in South America, being home to 36 indigenous groups. 60 percent of the population lives in poverty, and Bolivia’s indigenous population is among the poorest in the country. There is a highly unequal distribution of the economic resources and the farmland between the country’s 9,7 million inhabitants. The majority of the indigenous peoples belong to the poorest groups in the country and show a relatively weak political participation. Bolivia has the highest illiteracy rate and the lowest average school attendance in the region. Especially among women, indigenous peoples and the rural population, there are many who can’t read or write.

Bolivia may be the poorest country in South America, but also has a great basis for agricultural produce, exciting producers that are popping up all over the local communities, and a potential for a revitalization of the different ethnic and regional cuisines. Bolivia is high, cold mountains, hot valleys, savannah, woods, and rainforest. Bolivia is home to the world’s largest salt flat Salar de Uyuni, and the country is also a producer of coffee, cocoa, potatoes of all kinds, sugar cane, soy, coca leaves and bananas – and it deserves mention that the production is turning increasingly organic. Bolivia’s indigenous peoples are carriers of pre-Columbian cultures and their gastronomic roots date as far back as to the time before 1500 and Columbus’ discovery of America. – Melting Pot

  • Gustu’s manifesto:


This manifesto has the following bases:

  1. Be inclusive and become a source and symbol of pride among Bolivians.
  2. Enhance the diversity of native and local products, cultural and productive practices and encourage sustainability by linking with the Bolivian cuisine.
  3. Combining search of great taste with the importance of human health and the environment.
  4. Revalue regional gastronomic knowledge of popular tradition and safeguard as a national cultural heritage.
  5. Bolivian Gastronomy must reflect the diversity of products by ecological levels, seasonality and modes of preparation, individual of our country.
  6. Suggest cuisines based on local and indigenous techniques and ingredients, which also take into account global trends.
  7. Build a culture of quality through culinary education level students, producers, chefs , retailers, authorities and consumers.
  8. To promote research , documentation and dissemination of gastronomy.
  9. Develop a fraternal, reliable and cooperative relationship between all players in the culinary chain.
  10. Recognize, strengthen and integrate regional movements Restaurants and productive .

We resolve to make the Bolivian Movement in Gastronomic Integration an engine for positive social and economic change, through the impact on public policy proposals, generating new jobs, fair distribution of resources and promotion of tourism. – source

  • The main people I interacted with that night were chef Kamilla Seidler and GM Jonas Andersen (both formerly of the restaurant Geist in Copenhagen).


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My Airbnb apartment was less than 100m away from Gustu!

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The restaurant, from afar. I arrive early by South American standards.

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The Front Area

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Kitchen Area

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Service Begins


12-course menu

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Tumbo y Ciruela Club

“Tumbo – the banana passionfruit

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1. Zonzo, Salteña and Masaco

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Zonzo (4.5/5)

A delicious grilled yucca snack, with crispy cheese and burnt garlic sprinkled on top.

further sources on zonzo, with recipes: (one), (two)

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Salteña (3.75/5)

Salteñas are a baked Bolivian empanada. A traditional breakfast dish, this salteña was filled with oxcheek, potato, and carrot. Coca in the dough.

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2. Peanut Macaron with Palmito (Heart of Palm) Paste (4.75/5)

A good combination. Strong taste of peanut, akin to the filling from Asian peanut butter crackers.

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3. Grilled Avocado Puree with Fresh Plums (3/5)

I did not much like this dish – the grilled avocado puree was quite bitter, though the plums from the La Paz valley were pleasant in themselves. As a dish though the bitterness overwhelmed the momentary sweetness of thin plum slices.

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Bread with Coca Infused Butter (distinct and bitter, enjoyable and memorable)

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4. Tender Beets and Papalisa, Perfumed with Hibiscus (3.75/5)

Beets broiled, dehydrated and rehydrated (hibiscus vinegar?). I had seen this trick before at birch (with lavender vinegar) and Aska the previous year. This produces a chewy beet candy with satisfying resistance to the tooth. Papalisa or Ulluco, an Andean staple crop second only to potato, are very small tubers, distinguished primarily by their texture, a firm little tuber ball. A dish of textural contrast. Hibiscus paper.

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5. Poached Rabbit and Choclo with Lime (3/5)

Choclo, a robust large corn, is harder and starchier than the North American corn I’m used to. Here the choclo was charred and paired with poached rabbit and lime. The poached rabbit with lime was a simpler preparation. The choclo however remained hard, and for me detracted from the rabbit. The choclo demands attention, by virtue of its hard texture. The rabbit and choclo remained separate dishes on the plate.

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6. Silky Palm Marrow with Charque and Egg Yolk (5/5)

My favorite dish of the night. Charque, jerky made from alpaca, was charred into bits, like bacon, and set with a poached quail egg and strips of heart of palm. This was a great texture play – the soft, ethereal tissue that had the surface texture of a plastic strips had and the crisp bits of charque were bound wonderfully by a creamy yolk.

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7. Grilled Cauliflower with Drops of Mandarine (3.25/5)

A dish I have seen in other reports of Gustu. This was a triple play of cauliflower – puree, roasted, and a shaved slice of raw cauliflower, given contrast by slices of oranges. The meaty taste of cauliflower was in the puree and roast, but the shaved slice of cauliflower was not great fun to eat.

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8. Llama Filet with Chuños Glazed in Apple-Banana Syrup (4.5/5)

Chuñ0 – is a freeze-dried potato product from the Andes.

After harvest, potatoes are selected for the production of chuño, typically small ones for ease of processing. These small potatoes are spread closely on flat ground, and allowed to freeze with low night temperatures, for approximately three nights.

Between the freezing nights, they are exposed to the sun, and they are trampled by foot. This eliminates what little water is still retained by the potatoes, and removes the skins, enabling subsequent freezing.

After this, they are exposed to the cold for two additional nights.

White chuño is obtained by “washing” the frozen potatoes. The “washing” may take various forms. In Bolivia, the potatoes are spread on blankets or straw and constantly sprayed with water to moisten them. In Peru, the frozen potatoes are transported to a river, and deposited in pools.

The final step is drying in the sun. The result is now called chuño, also known as papas secas. In Bolivia, white chuño is also called tunta. – Wikipedia

The chuño potatoes tasted remarkably like dried banana crisps, which I suppose owes a great deal to the Apple-Banana Syrup! The llama had the texture of veal, and the taste was also similar to veal, with a more gamey taste. Perfectly executed dish.

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The Potosina Malta (5/5) may be one of the most unique pairings I have ever tasted. In GM Jonas’s words – “sweet, no acidity, no smoke, burnt bread”. It is pure sweetness, and reminded me of Pedro Ximenez sherry, if PX sherry was a stout.

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2014-01-03 21.44.239. 120 Days Aged Beef with Carrots Fermented in Orange Juice (4.75/5)

Bolivia doesn’t have a culture of aging and culturing things – and therefore Gustu is pioneering the practice. The carrots had been fermenting since the 7th of July (I was there on the 3rd of January, so that makes very nearly 6 months), and it was paired with the ruda (or common rue) – which tasted of anise+cinnamon. The carrots had the bite similar to the beets earlier served,  and had great depth of flavor. The 4.5 month aged beef, dry-ish, had the taste of blue cheese, well-offset by the carrots. The last of the mains.

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10. Creamy Chancaca, Tumbo and Singani (5/5)

Chancaca, or piloncillo, is “unrefined whole cane sugar, typical of Central and Latin America, which is basically a solid piece of sucrose obtained from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice.” – Wikipedia. Here, it was made into the beige meringue base, topped with the tumbo (banana-passionfruit sorbet). Good.

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11. Iced Chirimoya on Aji Fudge with Flakes of Tomatillo (3.25/5)

Chirimoya ice-cream with aji (dill family) fudge and tomatillo paper. A spicy puree was at the base of the dish. The sourness of the dish reminded me of haw candy, which I used to devour as a kid in Singapore. I didn’t quite like the dominant spicy, haw-sourness of the aji fudge – but I can see this as a matter of personal taste.

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Don Tomas’s 200 bottles of El Poblador. (5/5)

Wow. This wine is made from Misionea(sic?) grape, a grape brought to the New World by Spanish missionaries in the 15th(?) century. It tastes exactly, and I do mean exactly, 100%, on-the-mark, like black forest chocolate cake. Intensely cherry. Brilliant.

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12. Soft Chocolate Bar with Cacao Sorbet, Passionfruit and Ground Wild Cacao Beans (4.25/5)

A elegant end to a memorable meal.

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Coffee and Postprandial Snacks

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In anticipation of the 4am taxiride!


As a result of confining much of their food to geographical limits, locavore restaurants like Boragò and Gustu become destinations worth visiting in themselves, cultural heralds. They are certainly serving up some of the most interesting food in the Americas. My visit to Gustu was highly memorable, characterised by interesting ingredients, well-executed cooking and great service. I wish the team all the best in accomplishing their noble social mission. There’s a buzz about La Paz, and it’s from Gustu.

Rating: 16/20

Memory: Silky Palm Marrow with Charque and Egg Yolk; Llama Filet with Chuños Glazed in Apple-Banana Syrup ; Potosina Malta; Peanut Macaron with Palmito; Don Tomas’s El Poblador

Significant Links:

Absent Andes

Not much of human life is here at Gustu yet. The lack of ambience and community in Gustu jabbed me in the back throughout dinner and left the biggest impression. Jonas explained that he just didn’t know why it was so quiet, that this was really unusual. I went on a Wednesday and a Friday night, and both were the same. Fair enough, restaurants need some time to get the word out and punters in. But I think Gustu will continue to struggle attracting first and repeat customers beyond the first flush of glowing publicity it has enjoyed. Meyer has himself spoken about the difficulty Gustu has persuading Bolivians to visit, indicating a fundamental problem with his vision here.

For what it’s worth, my dining partners said they would come again, but maybe for a special occasion – though our bill came to 750 Bolivianos, a little more than the average monthly household income (in a country where not too many people are in regular salaried employment). And other local friends were not keen on trying it at all.

(I did notice that the restaurant, on a Friday night, did not fill to about 2/3’s until about 10pm. I put that down to the ramp-up period though)

Boragó | Santiago | Jan ’14 | “the summation of Chile”

6 Jan
  • Address: Av. Nueva Costanera 3467, Vitacura, Santiago, Chile
  • Telephone: +56 2 2953 8893
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $130
  • Courses: (15 main/17 total) 1 amuse / 11 savory / 4 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $9
  • Rating: 19/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 270 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 16 minutes
  • Chef: Rodolfo Guzman (ex. Mugaritz)
  • Style: Avant garde Chilean / foraging
  • Notable: forages all ingredients within 140 miles of Santiago.


Amazing. The New Year had barely passed, and I was already having one of the best meals I could imagine anywhere. I first heard of Borago, when it was blogged by John Sconzo. Reflecting the New Naturalism philosophy of Mugaritz, noma, and In de Wulf – it was a delight to see it applied to a different set of ingredients, one I was completely unfamiliar with. I’ve heard a catchphrase used to describe these restaurants – Borago (Santiago), Gustu (La Paz), Astrid y Gaston (Lima), Central (Lima), among others – “New Andean“. [reports to come, later]. All ingredients from the restaurant are foraged within a 140km radius around it.

Borago is best enjoyed after traversing the length of Chile. I imagine travellers, fresh from 10 days in the Patagonian rainforest, or driving down the coast of Chile, or just flown in from San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama desert, would find delightful reprises of their journeys in each of the dishes conjured up by Borago. For example, a soup made of Patagonian rainwater was served in a bed of moss. A macaron made with plants from the Atacama desert was made to look like that dry, desolate landscape. The plating was inventive, and absolutely delightful. The tastes were precise, and towards the end there was a sustained sequence of excellent and memorable dishes which rivalled anything I have experienced.

I ordered the 16 course extended Raqko tasting menu. Borago offers an 8 course option (Endemica) and 16 course option (Raqko). Rodolfo Guzman helmed the kitchen that night of 2nd January, ably assisted by Peruvian sous Tommy de Olarte and Mexican sous Sergio Meza, who has had experience at In de Wulf and noma. He:

has spent time working at noma and In de Wulf  amongst other noteworthy restaurants before coming to work at Boragó. Cooking since he was just 14 years old and now still only 22, his is a name to watch. – Docsconz.

A beautiful meal, there is no better send-off to Chile than dining at Borago. Indulge on your last night before you fly back home.

Rating: 19/20

Memory: Egg (Huevo de Galina Mapuche), Mushroom (Chupe de Setas de Pino), Rainwater Curanto, Conger Eel Tempura, Milk (Temera y su Leche), Atacama Desert (Rica Rica de Atacama), Sheep (Oveja Chilota)

Notable links:


My eating tour at a few of the Top 50 Latin American restaurants had gotten off to a rocky start with a amateurish meal at Tegui in Argentina. But Borago (the second fine-dining spot I had visited after 2 weeks in South America) restored some faith in that list by the end of the meal.

Geography: Borago is located in the upscale neighbourhood of Vitacura. You can use Uber to get to the restaurant, since Uber has just launched in Santiago.


An Aside on Economics: Chile’s economy is undergoing a boom right now. But there are storm clouds ahead. Chile mines over 1/3 of the world’s copper ore, and copper accounts for 13.5% (2011) of Chile’s GDP. Codelco (Chile’s national copper company) sells copper ore straight from the Antofagasta region to China, which refines it and ships it back to Chile. [This reminds me in principle of the exported expertise-building that took place in Singapore when Malaysia exported water from the Johor region from 1961-2011, only to have it purified and shipped back for a higher price]. There is a worry that Chinese demand is going to taper off. There are three plausible reasons I have heard:

  1. General rebalancing towards Chinese consumers due to unsustainability of investment-led growth model. The steady-state analysis by Michael Pettis in his book is very persuasive. He makes what he calls his “second assumption” on timing that Chinese demand will taper off very soon, where China will soon hit debt capacity limits, where loans for investment cannot be repaid out of taxes (implicit in artificially low savings rates, suppressed exchange rate).
  2. The time of fundamental infrastructure investment in Chinese cities is over. Copper is mainly needed for high-voltage power-lines. I consider this a non-factor, since according to Tom Miller’s book on Chinese urbanisation, there is still about 300 million of Chinese rural-urban migration yet to occur.
  3. Substitution by carbon-nanotubes for fundamental infrastructure. Copper may be needed for high-voltage power-lines, but China is looking towards carbon nanotubes for fundamental power infrastructure, being cheaper. I consider this an on-the-fence factor, because much depends on how successful Chinese research into carbon nanotubes will be.

In addition, there is a worry about how the tapering of QE in the US will start bringing hot-money investors seeking higher returns back to the US and away from the rest of the world.

What this means for a Chilean high-end restaurant, is that there is a question mark over the domestic economy and domestic consumers. High-end restaurants are like desert flowers that bloom when prosperity rains upon the local region. A restaurant like Borago represents Chilean prosperity. If the rains of prosperity cease after a short time, then restaurants must subsist upon the tourism aquifer, or shrivel, wither, die. Gastronomic tourism is especially important in a high-income-inequality region such as Latin America, which has a smaller domestic base of gastronome consumers. In any case, I noticed that most of the diners in Borago the night I was in (2nd January), were tourists (mainly American).

Aside 2: Besides talking about the nature of demand for Chilean fine dining above (domestic and foreign), the foreign demand for global fine-dining is in fact, composed of a very distinct set of “foodie” people. There promises to be a good documentary on foodies released this year. I hope the directors devote some significant time to how foodies interact with each other. That’s the most fascinating part.


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The passage of 4.5 hours…


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Statement of intent

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Initial photos on the pass

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Mawun Rainwater – collected from a lagoon in Patagonia

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Pork Skin

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Normally a Chilean candy filled with dulce de leche, this replaced it with chicken pate.

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A yellow pepper salsa (“pobre?”) with ash of coriander, onion, tomato on top

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Melon Jelly with Golden Liqeur

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De Martino, Viejas Tinajas, Muscat, 2012, D.O. Italia. (1,2)

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The evening has begun…

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1st. Nalca y Frutilla Blanca de Purén (2.75/5)

Nalca, a stemmed herb of the rhubarb family, and occasional pest plant, was presented here sliced two ways.

First in a disc, and lengthways. I did not like the lengthways slicing, which preserved the toughness of the fibres in such a way that was almost inedible.

A more pleasant thing was the “white strawberry”, in season for only 2 weeks a year (lucky me!). It tasted exactly like strawberry.

Wild dill, and a dill sauce.

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2nd. Locos Cítricos (3.75/5)

Locos, a false abalone (actually a sea snail), is usually served with olive oil and mayonnaise (how I had it earlier that day at Aquí Esta Coco)

Here the idea, explained to me by Meza, was to avoid masking the taste by adding a lot of mayonnaise, but to pair it with citrus. Lemon balm leaves, bits of lime peel, blitzed 12 times and reduced to paste dabs, sprinkled with parsley and a sweet hunk of citrusy paste in the middle made of an endemic herb.

Pleasant, though I felt the locos here had a bit less sweetness than the ones at lunch.

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Jugo de Pepino-Aceite de Oliva (3,4)

Delicious. Cucumber and olive oil.

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3rd. Verdolagas al Rescoldo y Yogur de Pajarito (3.5/5)

Purslane, cooked like a meat straight on the grill. Yoghurt with kefir.

While I enjoy the direct grilling technique applied to beets and carrots, I didn’t think that this purslane had enough sugar or chemicals to react deliciously with the heat. It was still a bit tasteless when it came out.

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4th. Cremoso de Isla Negra (4.5/5)

The beginning of a sustained sequence of courses I really enjoyed all the way until the end. The first three courses were duds to me (the only reason why Borago doesn’t get a perfect score), but from here all the way to the end the quality was unflagging.

Roasted samphire (a type of seagrass) was served with creamed spinach. Beautiful, crunchy texture contrasting with paste.

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Domaine Raab-Ramsay, Blanc de Blancs, D.O. Marga-Marga (5)

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5th. Ajo Chilote y Huevo de Gallina Mapuche (5/5)

An egg yolk from the Mapuche hen was cured in sugar, taking all the water out until it became a sweet gummy, was plated deceivingly with what looked like cooked egg white but was actually elephant-garlic-and-potato puree. Plating masterpiece.

Afterwards I had to spend a good minute getting the gummy egg yolk bits out of my teeth.

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Jugo de Damasco (6)

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6th. Chupe de Setas de Pino (5/5)

A cooked down stew (“chupe”) of pine mushrooms and bolete mushrooms foraged 120km away in Quintay was garnished with mushroom crisps and crispy mushroom strands. Next to it was pine powder. Evocative of a forest floor. Tasted marvellously of pine-woodiness.

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Agua de Lluvia de la Patagonia (7)

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7th. Curanto y Agua de Lluvia de la Patagonia (5/5)

Here’s a humorous Wikihow link on how to make Curanto. Essentially, a mud-wall underground barbecuing technique. Concentrated with intense flavors of the component parts, this was a dish I will remember for a long time.

At Boragó, the flavors of the curanto were distilled into a broth, rich with the flavor of clams and pork, which was served in a cup surrounded by moss and twigs among which was tucked a nugget of fried potato.  It was delicious. – Ulterior Epicure

Curanto is a traditional preparation from the south of Chile and involves burying layers of food including shellfish, meat, chorizo,  potatoes, vegetables and other ingredients cooked under ground on a layer of hot rocks and covered with nalca leaves to keep the smoke inside. This is usually done during a minga, a traditional party held when houses are literally moved from one location to another. At Boragó they used Patagonian rain water to create a stock incorporating all the flavors of the curanto serving a traditional potato bread or milcao on the side nestled amongst the branches. – Docsconz

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Calcu, Rosé, Ensamblaje, 2012, D.O. Colchagua (8)

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8th. Corvina y herbias de Playa (3.75/5)

Sea bass in ash, with beach herbs. Slightly overcooked fish, but the rock (for foraging smells) was evocative.

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9th. Congrio Frito… (4.75/5)

He coated conger eel in ash and perched it on the banks of a lake of machas broth, blushing with the peachy-pink color that the machas clam (mistakenly called “razor clam” by locals; it’s triangular in shape) secretes when cooked.  This dish, like many other dishes, including an inky dashi made out of ulte seaweed, was rich with the xian of the ocean.  It was one of my favorite dishes at Boragó. – Ulterior Epicure

An ashen tempura of conger eel, in bullwhip kelp root dashi. Conger eel had a soft, cod-like texture. Very good.

Jugo de Pimentón Rojo (9)

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Tipaume, Ensamblaje, 2011, D.O. Alto Cachapoal (10)

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10th. Temera y su Leche (5/5)

Brilliant dish. 40-hour beef cooked in milk (to evoke the smell of what it produces), served with alfalfa leaves (to evoke the scent of what it eats), a burnt branch (to evoke the smell of the meadow). Milk crisps further enhanced the milk scents. The entire lifecycle of a cow.

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11th. Pieza de Vaca y Espino (4.75/5)

Guzman used wood or products from four different trees in this dish. The seeds in the photo above were edible as they were and also used for the complex, mole-like glaze on the beef. These were from the Espino tree (Acacia Caven), which according to Wikipediais just an ornamental tree. According to Rodolfo Guzman, however, the Mapuche have been toasting and eating Espino seeds for over 2000 years. The toasting gives the seeds an aroma like coffee. The Mapuche call these tannin-laden seed pods Quirinca. The beef was cooked over both Espino wood as well as wood from the Tepu tree of southern Chile. Additional elements in this dish came from the Quillay tree and the Ulmo tree. This dish made no sense intuitively, but somehow Guzman pulled it off and made the wood enhanced beef work. Sure, wood has been a flavor enhancer via smoke for as long as humans have used fire, but I had never before actually eaten woody elements as I had here. The only thing on the plate that wasn’t actually edible was the branch itself. I’m still not sure that I understand this dish or how Chef Guzman did it, but I’m glad I had it! It was a very complex dish that really grew on me as I ate it. It will likely continue to haunt me for some time. – Docsconz

A good dish, reminiscent of the coffee spareribs ubiquitous in Singapore czechar places (the difference being that Singaporean ribs are fried, and here the shortrib was, I believe, sous-vide-d). Sweetly and slightly bitter glaze on shortribs. Good.

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Quirinca seed pod.

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Jugo de Murra (11)

Blackberry juice. A note here on the philosophy of the sommelier at Borago. Most of the drinks I had were orthogonal to the dish, adding a completely new dimension to the dish, without competing or diminishing the flavors. It was very enjoyable to drink the pairings.

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Ramping up to dessert.

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Licor de Rica-Rica (12)

A mothball smelling, mild tasting sap.


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12th. Rica Rica de Atacama (5/5)

Ice cream from the rica rica plant, and a macaron layer made of rica rica. The filling was made from the Chañar wildflower. Evoked the Atacama desert.

I had just spent 4 days in the Atacama desert, in landscapes that looked like this:

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So this dish immediately hit home in visual associations.


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Chicha Premium, D.O. Cachapoal (13)

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13th. Oveja Chilota “Chilota Sheep” (5/5)

A cake covered with fermeneted maqui berry juice, an endemic berry tasting similar to black berry, was covered with a blonde sugar floss and a sheephead-shaped marshmallow. Taste and visual presentation, superb. [The “sheep” is a plating also used at El Celler de Can Roca.]

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Someone has to kill the sheep.

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Infusión de Cedrón (14)

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14th. Chirimoya contenta y zanahoria (4.75/5)

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I could not guess the identity of the leathery, sweet thing on the branch. Persimmon? It turned out to be carrot, cooked for a very long time. Carrots have been a revelation in recent years – so many cooks have taken the humble carrot. There are so many possibilities within this humble vegetable.

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A haute-version of Chirimoya Alegre. Chirimoya is custard apple, and here was paired beautifully with citrus and carrot, in puree, sorbet and crisp form.

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Cerveza Barrio, Barley Wine (15)

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15th. Coulant de Espino (4.5/5)

A tribute to Michel Bras’s coulant. Warm inside, cold and quite hard outside. I had to take five strong taps to crack my coulant.

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16th. Frio glacial

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Puff the Magic Dragon again!

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Cleaning up, the end.

The 20 Best Dishes of 2013

1 Jan

It has been a spectacular year of eating. A year ago, I was in Marseille, midway through a European sightseeing/food tour. I end it in Santiago, Chile, midway through a Latin American sightseeing/food tour. Many dishes required a long flight to taste, but a few were just 10 minutes from my doorstep. All are testament to hard work by people who through dint of hard work and creativity in their craft, have created some of the best tasting things on this planet.

  • * I’ll stretch the bounds of 2013 just a little to make room for two very late 2012 entries.

Happy New Year, and I wish everyone good eating in 2014!


20. Coconut Buns – Katong Sin Chew Cake Shop, Singapore

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My favourite buns from Katong Cake Shop are the coconut buns (marked with a green candied cherry cube on top), which are have a moist and hot sweet coconut interior, and an airy (corn?)bread outside.

19. Baby Pork Hazelnut – Tapas Molecular Bar, Tokyo, Japan

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This was an inverted xiaolongbao (soup dumpling). Here the pork (topped with shaved hazelnut), would form the outer covering for a soup within. How did they do it? I asked Aaron, the assistant chef. It turns out that they bake the chop, after they stuff a gelatin cube into the pork, and then cover it up with meat glue. The pork tasted superb, and the mechanics of the dish were sublime.

18. 55′ Rosemary Smoked Organic Egg – Jaan, Singapore

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Chef Royer’s specialty among specialties. Cooked for 55 minutes at 62 degrees celsius, this egg was the texture of an onsen egg. Crisp potatoes and fantastic ham matchsticks. This one will live long in the memory.

17. Sunchoke – Aska, New York City

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The 2nd dish turned out brilliant. This is the best sunchoke dish I have yet tasted. It may be dubbed “sunchoke 5 ways”.
  1. Strips of roasted sunchoke skin
  2. Discs of fermented sunchoke
  3. Rehydrated sunchoke chunks
  4. Fermented sunchoke jus, calrified and cooked with elderflower and butter
  5. Sunchoke puree.

Coaxing a bewildering amount of different flavours and textures from one ingredient. Bravo, absolute mastery of the sunchoke. The only barbarians on the plate were the little hedgehog mushrooms.

16. Baby Calamari – Ristorantino Da Spano, Palermo, Italy

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The Platonic form of calamari. Tender without a hint of chewiness, the little eyes of baby squid were savory and crisp. The most perfect calamari I could imagine having.

15. Wood-fired Squid Amatriciana – Avec, Chicago

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My favorite dish this time round. A delicious baked-glaze, like a mac-and-cheese, on top of amatriciana that contained pork cheeks (guanciale?) and squid.

14. Warm Red Beets – birch, Providence, Rhode Island

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Vegetable cooking of the highest order. This dish could have slid straight into service at l’Arpege. Beets are first dehydrated, and then rehydrated in lavender vinegar. The subtle sweetness of sunflower petals accompany the sunflower seeds, covered with a hearty helping of warm shaved walnut. Somewhere in that pile, there is also caramelised onion puree and the best, sweetest gooseberries I have yet tasted. Spectacular. A riot of colour.

13. Bak Kut Teh – Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha, Singapore

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Deliciously fiery and peppery, this was originally used to pep-up coolie labor in Singapore just before their work shifts. The ribs are best eaten slathered with sweet black sauce. I’ve tried all the famous bak kut teh stalls in Singapore, and this to me is the best one in the Teochew style.

12. Fried Chicken – má pêche, New York City

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Fried chicken done the right way and made to order. Juicy, with the crisp skin filled with the taste of Jabenero peppers. This was an unexpected comp from the kitchen, and really stretched the 3 of us to bursting point.

11. Minus-196 Mango – Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo, Japan

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A delicate bijou (of mild-tasting sugar?) coloured and shaped to look like a mango, containing freeze-dried mango powder, is broken by the diner and afterwards mixed with warm mango poured into the diner’s plate. This is the signature minus-196 degree dessert from RyuGin, which has been used for apples and peaches too, among others. (minus 196 is the boiling point of liquid nitrogen). Spectacular.

10. Rigatoni Bolognese, Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta to Go, Venice, Italy

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Rigatoni with Bolognese – the best bolognese I’ve ever had. Fresh tomatoes, succulent beef, went well with the large-penne that is rigatoni.

Sometimes the best food is to be found in unassuming places. The mild January winter of Venice brought me to a hole-in-the-wall take out place near St Mark’s Square, and I found two young owners who wanted to make all their sauces from scratch, and feed the local Venetians.

9. Crab & Obsiblue ‘Shell’ – Jaan, Singapore

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The sublime taste of Obsiblue prawn comes out beautifully in a tartare, with crab salad and caviar on top. An avocado foam tops it; a crustacean jelly undergirds it. Superb.

8. Noix de Saint Jacques, legumes d’hiver –  Une Table au Sud, Marseille, France

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A truly spectacular dish, a complex edible canvas. A bold decision was made to serve a raw root vegetable (the shaved rose-pink slices of tuber you see in the picture), along with a savory pumpkin-y sauce, and starchy sweet potato. A braised soft asparagus-like stalk looked liked the sweet potato, but had a different texture. Perfectly seared scallops finished off this dish. Each vegetable’s texture and flavor rang clear, and harmoniously together. It looks like a “winter vegetable riot”.

To me, this is a reference dish. When I think about winter vegetable compositions or a scallop dish, I still recall this dish very fondly.

7. Anago Sushi – Sushi Bun near Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan

No pictures, because the chef didn’t allow it. I was in a 7am stupor, when I met fellow Brownie But it was so good, I had it twice. A brilliant sweet sauce on top of almost falling apart anago (saltwater eel), it just melted in my mouth.

6. Raw “Cheesecake” – Maitrea or Lehka Hlava, Prague, Czech Republic

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So good I had it three times in six days in Prague. Who cares if it’s vegan? A tart raw strawberry sauce drizzled on top of a raw “cheesecake” – made with cashew nuts, walnuts, raisins, coconut butter, and honey.

5. Foie Gras Terrine with Umeboshi Puree – Eleven Madison Park, New York City

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A stunning dish. 3 sweet crisp layers of tuile sandwich savory blocks of foie gras, cut to perfect and uncloying thickness. Soursweet dark complexity from an umeboshi (pickled plum) puree and syruped plum bits with plum jelly. Tremendous. The umeboshi puree was a perfect complement to foie-tuile sandwich.  The best foie dish I have ever tasted, as far as I remember.

4. Egg Custard and Uni – Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo, Japan

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A simple pairing of egg custard and uni (sweet). 3 types of onions refer to green onion flowers (pictured), fried onion (brown bits pictured), diced onion (the white cubes). Showcased delicate raw sweet smell of spring onions without the bitterness.

3. Sweet Grain Cereal – birch, Providence, Rhode Island

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birch’s tribute to breakfast consists of whipped grain milk, on top of apple sauce and a cornmeal johnnycake, mixed with the kitchen sink: honeycomb, puffed rice, oat snaps, and a few other things that are delicious. Eating this is like eating the best bowl of breakfast cereal ever. The mix of textures is complex, with at least four different kinds of crunchiness: thin, oaty crunchiness from the oat snaps, hollow crunchiness from the rice, and sweet dense crunchiness from the honeycomb, and what I think are airy cylinders of dried apple. One of the best desserts I have ever tried anywhere.

2. Oyster Ice Cream – Restaurant Andre, Singapore

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This is one of Restaurant Andre’s great dishes. It was introduced by Stepan Marhoul, restaurant Andre’s manager. Oyster ice cream, which has to be made with the flesh of firmer oysters and not the creamier ones, was perfectly cold and tasted of the cold, salty sea. Underneath the oyster ice cream, which had a firm texture, was a small oyster. Green apple, which seems to be one of the kitchen’s favorite ingredients, is here a foam, set beside the ice cream. Served on an oyster shell in a bed of coral salt. A very tricky and technically perfect dish.

1. Cevennes-Onion Gratin – l’Arpege, Paris, France

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One of l’Arpege’s signature dishes, this dish blew me away. A Cevennes Saint-Andre White Onion has an delicate sweet flavor. Here they were caramelised to concentrate the sweetness and put in a parmesan gratin, and had a sweet-tangy finish that the mild shaved black truffle did perfectly to complement.

I still think very fondly of l’Arpege I visited right at the doorstep of 2013 – the simplicity of the dishes, and the depth of the flavours gave me pause. With hindsight, many of a sustained sequence of dishes there were almost served in Technicolor.