By Patrick Hieger

[photo: Patrick Hieger]

[photo: Patrick Hieger]

Now that Ñam is over and the wine, hot dogs, tapas, wine, and more hot dogs begins to slowly make its way out of our bodies, let’s take a few minutes to look back at the fourth edition of Chile’s largest and most important food festival.  Lastarria couldn’t have been a better neighborhood to host the festival, within easy walking distance of great food and drinks, and already oozing with ambience.  Certainly the festival’s organizers are already taking notes about what worked, what didn’t, and what’s going to happen in 2015.  We’re already counting down the days.  Below, a look at some of the festival’s main highlights.

1. With the whole of Latin America combined, from Mexico to the southernmost tip of Argentina, there’s really nothing stopping the region from leading the next phase of modern food for the foreseeable future.  The innovation, simplification, and homage shown for traditional methods at this year’s Ñam was nothing short of spectacular.  As leaders in the region continue to push their own limits and discover new ingredients and techniques, we can soon expect a whole new crop of chefs to follow in their footsteps and push Latin cuisine further than was ever thought possible.

2. Rescue and return are the two new buzz words that we should be looking out for this year.  As South American chefs start to turn away from European traditions and techniques, a return to the land, to native products, and to products that we didn’t formerly know were edible is inevitable.  With restaurants like D.O.M., Central, and Boragó leading the way, and others like Quintonil, El Baqueano, and Alto falling right in step with them, there’s no telling what this year’s menus will deliver.

3.  When Hogs speaks, hot dog lovers listen.  Hogs’ special “Latin American” menu, which included signature hot dogs from Virgilio Martinez, Narda Lepes, Harry Sasson, and Jorge Vallejo, was nearly sold out by the third day of the festival, and completely unavailable on closing day.  The menu and its launch were, without a doubt, one of the shining highlights of Ñam.  Expect to see more collaborative work from the Food Lab Group in the very near future.

4.  The mystery behind the Log Ladies videos was discovered.  Unfortunately, secrecy has been sworn.

5.  Alex Atala speaks six different languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French–fluently.  He didn’t say what the other two were, but if one of them were Japanese or Russian, it wouldn’t be at all surprising.  It seems that going from punk DJ to one of the world’s leading chefs has its perks.  C’est bon, no?

6.  There is a marked divide between those wishing to pursue modern food to its limits, and those who want nothing to do with anything that isn’t “real” food.  Though Ñam closed with a very noticeable jab at some of the leaders in South America’s modern movement, their food and even their plating style, the rest of the time the comments and remarks were rather general.  That is to say, while many of the invited chefs who are on lists of the world’s best restaurants and other such lists are returning to the traditions of their countries, those chefs that never swayed from them don’t care much for modern food.

7.  Gastón Acurio is a walking production.  On the rare occasion that the godfather of Peruvian cuisine wasn’t on stage or in an auditorium, he was walking around surrounded by boom mics, video cameras, and a pack of reporters.

8.  Video is the new cooking demo.  As food continues to advance and the techniques and machines necessary to create certain dishes do, too, the live cooking demo is becoming increasingly more difficult.  Most of the invited did manage to put up at least one plate, but video was still crucial to their presentations.  Ten years ago it was virtually unheard of to have an in-house video production team.  Now, it’s basically a requirement.

9.  99 is now open.  You can start getting lunch and dinner there Monday through Friday, as of today.

10. Give a chef one hell of a hangover and they’ll give you a great presentation in return.  Not one chef showed up late, skipped a performance, or asked for a moment to themselves.  With the late night dinners, the after parties and the free wine typically going well into the early hours of the morning each day of the festival, you could see that a few of the chefs would have preferred to stay in, but none did.  In fact, it was most likely getting on stage that saved their morning.  It’s a rough life, but somebody’s gotta do it.

11.  South America has one hell of a lot of coastline and rivers to fish from.  With the ideas of rescuing product and returning to tradition as major running themes in many of the presentations, we got to hear about just how much water there is for fish to swim in.  Next time you’re eating Chilean fish in the United States, start asking yourself if you shouldn’t be looking to your own coasts and rivers.

12.  Algae is the new foie gras.  Lake algae.  Mountain algae.  River algae.  Wherever algae can grow, you can bet that leading Latin American chefs are going to find it, cook it, and serve it to you.  Luckily, the majority of it is really quite tasty.

13.  Chile has a lot of incredible artisan products from throughout its different regions.  The Ñam Mercado was an incredible look at just how much diversity there is within Chile, with products ranging from exceptional olives and olive oils, to fresh cheeses, cured meats, artisan wines, and more.

14.  Mocotó’s Rodrigo Oliveira is, without a doubt, the happiest chef on the planet.  It was all smiles and good vibes as chef praised the sausage-making presentation given by Hogs earlier in the morning on day three, and then launched free t-shirts into the crowd to end his presentation.  Want to know about all the different types of flour that Brazil has to offer?  Get an audience with Rodrigo Oliveira, and he’ll gladly tell you.

15.  Not every chef’s childhood was full of gourmet food, rich parents, or even happiness.  Memory was the other big theme of this year’s Ñam, and how that memory–of flavor, of inspiration, of someone else’s cooking–plays a huge role in the chef that each of the presenters is today.  It was interesting to hear chefs talk about their hippie parents, or dysfunctional households, growing up Jewish, or not really being much of a foodie as a kid.  There isn’t a recipe for what makes a good chef great.

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