By Patrick Hieger

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“You invited us to dream, and I want to dream with you.”  Although day two of Qaray, the international chef’s symposium at the heart of this year’s Mistura, might have been a little less emotionally charged than opening day, there were still some key moments that made it one worth remembering.  The above quote came from a culinary student after Chile’s Rodolfo Guzmán kicked things off, encouraging the young cooks in the crowd to dream big.  From there it was a day of fluctuations, bouncing around with talent from Europe to South America, drawing to close with a two-meter tall Ben Reade (ex-Nordic Food Lab) gracing the stage with a decipherable Scottish accent.

One main takeaway from the day is that South America is looking at things quite a bit differently than Europe these days.  Not everyone can come out and give ultimatums like Carlo Petrini, but there is a clear vision coming together for the continent, one that the culinary world should be paying close attention to.  Luckily for us, it makes for some decent moments spent listening to speeches.

Here’s some key moments from the day:

• As mentioned, Rodolfo Guzmán was the day’s first speaker, and he took the chance to talk about his new R&D project Conectáz, sort of an extension of Boragó.  He spoke fervently of Boragó’s difficult first eight years, but how the vision has always remained the same.  “We’re happy to be ignorant,” he said, because it means that there’s so much left to explore.  Watching Guzmán speak is exciting, his eyes always focused on the goals he’s discussing.

Conectáz will work directly with Chile’s Universidad Católica to continue the work that Boragó has done to scour Chile for every possible edible ingredient, and to encourage Chileans to reinvent their own cuisine.  “Be aware that you’re going to fail, but be ready to pick yourself up.”  Boragó’s rise in the rankings over the years hasn’t been an easy one, but Guzmán seems more committed than ever not just to his restaurant, but to his homeland, and his continent.  Apparently he’s going to have a new dreamer of a stagiere, too.

• Bilbao’s Josean Alija of Nerua at the Guggenheim took over from Guzmán, talking mostly about a shift in his perception of cooking.  His would be a presentation of conceptual videos, slides of food, and long explanations of complicated dishes.  Although still very complex and technique-driven, chefs like Alija could lead a new front in Spain, a return to cooking from the land.

• Looking around the auditorium, it appeared that the previous night’s / morning’s party at Astrid y Gastón had done most everyone in.  There was lots of coffee, lots of slouching.

• Finishing off the morning session of day two was Maido’s Mitsuharu Tsumura on stage with a few friends from countries around Latin America, including Soledad Nardelli (Argentina), Edgar Nuñez (Mexico), Jorge Rausch (Colombia), and Carolina Bazan (Chile).  Dubbed ‘Micha y sus Amigos,’ the session was to be a chance for key chefs from each country to share with each other news and trends, while ultimately highlighting how the region is coming together as one.  Both Nuñez and Tsumura prepped their country’s versions of ceviche, which both have hangover-curing properties.  They probably should have made enough for the whole crowd.

The session’s highlight was Rausch’s video about the campaign in Colombia to eat lion fish.  You can see the video here, and the strong views that Colombians have towards this fish that is wreaking havoc on their coastline.  “We’ve created a supply chain from scratch,” he said, summing up this year’s overriding theme of biodiversity and conservation.

• Post-lunch, Argentine TV personality and always a delight Narda Lepes presented her good friend Pablo del Rio, chef of Mendoza’s 7 Cocinas.  The restaurant is based on seven key regions throughout Argentina, each with a wild range of biodiversity.  There are plants that grow for two weeks out of the year.  Terroir that makes Argentine wines great.  Mountains, sub-tropical climates, high plains, and so on.  “I’ve been talking for 15 minutes and I haven’t mentioned lamb, empanadas, or chimichurri, but we’re still talking about Argentina.”  The message was potent, and made great cause for Argentina to push forth as a country wealthy in ingredients.

• Acclaimed journalist and author Luciana Bianchi introduced Uruguayan Matias Perdomo, of the Michelin-starred Pont de Ferr in Italy.  Aside from Bolivia’s Kamilla Seidler the day before, Perdomo was the first to really take to the stage and cook.  His talk may not have centered around biodiversity or a return to the land, and, in fact, focused more on breaking down ingredients and making fun shapes with silicon molds, but it was still nice to see a chef on stage, in a chef’s jacket, cooking.  A trip to Italy may also soon be in the works.

• When Ben Reade, formerly of Nordic Food Lab and now, apparently, gainfully unemployed, took to the stage in a bucket hat and baggy jeans, there was no telling how it was going to relate at all to Mistura.  A slide show about the people who have greatly affected his cooking career and time spent as a researcher of foods and food customs hinted at Rene Redzepi’s look at pictures of his kitchen staff from last year, but ultimately ended up echoing Rodolfo Guzmán’s emphasis on dreaming big.  What Reade represented was the new shift in food culture, where the line between chef and forager / researcher / scientist has been blurred.  Maybe it’s not just about the chef whites and loads of press anymore, but instead about the stories and the reasons behind the foods we eat.  Either way, it all sounds pretty cool with a Scottish accent.

• Finally, Diego Muñoz and the head team behind Astrid y Gastón took to the stage to show off a few of the plates from the new Memorias de mi Tierra menu that premiered last week, but not before Gastón Acurio briefly took the mic to explain his recent retirement as head of the restaurant.  Now with more than 40 restaurants to run around the world, countless press engagements, and who knows what else, he can’t be the full-time chef that the restaurant needs.  Diego Muñoz can.  It was a brief moment, but one that said, if we heard correctly, “Let me do what I need to do, and please give your attention to Diego.”  The man knows how to make a graceful exit.

Today, the close of Qaray, but not Mistura.  There’s still eight more days to go.  You still have time.

 

 

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