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“Why not treat all vegetables like black garlic?” Rodolfo Guzmán, Boragó’s chef asked himself, as only someone like Rodolfo Guzmán would do. “What if we could find that complexity in every single vegetable we have?
Black garlic is created by heating entire bulbs of garlic over a period of weeks at high humidity, which results in black cloves that are sweet and a little bit syrupy and have hints of what tastes like Balsamic vinegar. The garlic isn’t fermented, but rather has a Maillard reaction where it becomes caramelized. It was first used an ingredient in Korean cuisine, catching on globally about a decade ago. In Chile, black garlic has been produced on the archipelago of Chiloé since 2013 with the enormous Ajo Chilote, an elephant garlic that’s the size of a fist that is believed to have been introduced by the Spanish.
Boragó in Santiago, rising to number 36 on the World’s 50 Best restaurant list in 2016, has become Latin America’s preeminent culinary research laboratory in recent years. Lately, they have begun going well beyond just cataloging native ingredients, but are branching out into investigating global ones as as well. For example, they’ve created a rich, soy-like broth from the typically unused roots of cochayuyo seaweed and they have turned carrots and other vegetables into a form of cheese, almost like a Brie, by inoculating them.
A black beet in Boragó’s test kitchen.
When Guzmán and the team tried experimenting with turning various vegetables into black garlic in his test kitchen at Boragó, they couldn’t figure it out. Until they did.
“It’s more simple than we thought. Every vegetable is different. Some have more water. Some have more sugar,” says Guzmán. “You have to treat them like children. Each are different.”
At Boragó they use sea water to control the humidity and need to tweak the amount of salt. The resulting black vegetables can go either sweeter or saltier, per Guzmán, and they have amazing aromas. They’ve thus far focused on carrots, beets, and avocados, which become very floral.
Like black garlic, the black vegetables truly become unique ingredients. They add them into seaweed broths, eat them raw, and mix in with whey from pajarito yogurt. The signature dish of the moment is the Black flower, made with black carrots, black beets, and other black vegetables.
Experimenting is just getting under way, so the upcoming season, which begins in March, will see the concept be explored further. It’s still a learning curve, according to Guzmán.
“I have a feeling we are going to go super deep into this,” he says. “We see the potential. It’s magic.”