The Adventures of Ana Roš in Chile
Ana Roš came to Chile because one day, as the story goes, Blaine Wetzel, the chef of Lummi Inn in Washington, walked into a room with a map. The Gelinaz! crew, a band of global chefs, were in Tuscany for an event. He pointed to the map and said to the room: “You go here. You go there. You go there.” No one knew what the hell he was talking about. He went on to explain that each chef would go to a different restaurant. That was the beginning of what would become the Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle, where 37 of the world’s best known chefs anonymously swapped kitchens for one night.
Slovenian chef Roš, owns the restaurant and guest house Hiša Franko with her husband Valter Kramer in Kobarid, in the Soca Valley bordering Italy. In European culinary circles everyone has heard of her, though with Slovenian gastronomy begining to get its due, not to mention that an episode about her opens the second season of Netflix food documentary series Chef’s Table, her reach is about to expand dramatically.
I met Roš in Chile the weekend before the event in the front of Boragó, Rodolfo Guzman’s Santiago restaurant, the one that Gelinaz! founder Andrea Petrini assigned to her. She’s known for her use of contrasting textures and flavors and there are few countries I could think of that offer a bigger contrast and set of flavors to Slovenia than Chile, particularly those in Guzman’s kitchen, which are mostly collected by communities of isolated foragers in remote parts of the country.
I found her in the test kitchen of Boragó opening sea urchins. “I wonder if I can take these home with me,” she says. There were sea urchins back in Slovenia too, but not like these. The day before she was served a plate of Chile’s giant uni, which have tongues the size of a human’s without a drop in flavor, at a small restaurant in the Mercado Central. There were so many that she made little uni sandwiches with them. “In Europe, the price would be crazy for this.”
All of the seafood in Chile was different. With Boragó’s then sous chef Shannon Martincic, herself coincidentally of Slovenian decent via Ohio, Roš went to one of Guzman’s secret foraging spots on the coast, encountering shore plants with peculiar flavors and hints of salt.
On trying tasting Boragó’s menu for the first time, she began taking notes and had to give up. None of the ingredients were familiar. There were fragrant herbs from the desert and a strange blood red sea creature called piure that looks like a rock. In Slovenia, she follows a zero kilometer approach, using almost entirely food grown within walking distance of Hiša Franko, aside of seafood coming from Slovenia’s tiny strip of Adriatic coast. Here things were coming from divergent ecosystems located thousands of kilometers apart, like the Atacama or Patagonia. She wasn’t deterred.
“I like this,” she told me. “Usually everywhere I go I’m bringing my own products with me. This is the best experience. Not knowing about the food.”
To move forward she had to accept that nothing she used in the kitchen in Chile would taste like something she knew, even when it looked like something she knew. We went to a farm on the outskirts of Santiago and we picked carrots, but they were sweeter than the carrots in Slovenia. The dazzlingly colored Mapuche chickens laid blue eggs with no cholesterol. There were onions of course, but “Shit! Chilean onions are strong,” she learned as she chopped them and sniffled.
I joined her for her second dinner at Boragó on another night and we talked through some of the dishes. It became apparent just how conceptual some of the dishes were. In the rock sequence, the waiter helped evoke the sloshhing of the sea against the rocks, in this case a black broth made from the roots of cochayuyo algae being scraped off a rock covered in a mud of black beans. In a chupe, a fishermens stew, the pine mushrooms and leaves that covered it were meant to evoke the surroundings and the smell of the place where the ingredients came from.
The next day she introduced herself to the team. Most spoke English and some had even heard of Slovenia, though no one had any idea of what the food was like.
“It’s a very new gastronomic destination,” she explained, “So every decision has to be very rational. We try to keep menu prices reasonable.”
“Como aca,” mentioned one of the line cooks.
She laid out the menu. There would be snacks plus eight courses, several of which immediately caught everyone’s attention. Oysters were being paired with wild boar tongue, while those gargantuan sea urchins would pair with deer heart. She wasn’t finding enough sweet for a second dessert, especially after using murtilla (Chilean guava) in a main course, so she was still figuring out the second. Over the next couple of days we would be prepping upstairs in the test kitchen and refining the menu.
The next few days meant putting together a menu that was very different from anything served at Boragó before. For one, there would be pasta. “Rodolfo would never do that here,” said Martincic. He’s a purist. I texted him a photo of a handful of his cooks rolling out sheets of egg pasta and forming raviolis filled with salicornia and rock chard, which are then being dropped in liquid nitrogen. Roš is in the background directing: “I want it to explode on the tongue and for the salicornia to come out. It should make a popping sound,” she says. “A huge contrast of the ravioli and saltiness of the ocean.” Guzman responds: “Hollywood shit!”
There was a lot of back and forth testing different combinations of ingredients. The bay leaves were completely different than the ones in Slovenia. A pine sugar was made and on tasting Roš pauses, then says: “That’s not like how ours tastes, but we’ll just see how it goes. Nick, put your nose in there. Shannon, try this.”
She wanted sea strawberries, the ones that were a little bit salty, where you can taste the sea, but the seasons was over and they only had powder now. She asks to taste the insides of piure, which she had on Guzman’s menu, though he cuts it into thin slices and pairs it with mandarin to balance out the strong, soapy flavor. She tastes it and shudders. She now understands the decision not to use the whole piure and adds citrus and sea plants into the dish.
Someone asks what music she wants to listen to. “You choose what you listen to,” she says. “I need to be you.”
Everything starts to flow together.
“How long do you infuse rica rica?” she asks, then tastes it. “Wow it’s crazy. This will be great with the tangerines.”
For the mussels she plays with the lemony flavor of the coriander seeds.
She insists to everyone that the purée de papas served with the wild boar tongue should be very creamy. “Like the last thing you eat before you die.” Everyone tastes it. “Is it good or is it fucking good?” she asks. Everyone agrees. It’s fucking good.
On the night of the dinner no one that came knew who was cooking. The 37 chefs that went to other restaurants did so with the agreement that they would remain anonymous until the dinner. Most guests at Boragó had probably bought tickets thinking that this might be their chance to eat a menu from René Redzipi or Massimo Bottura. Chile was one of the last dinners of the Gelinaz! Shuffle, so news had already been trickling in from Australia and Japan. Narisawa was at Attica and David Kinch at Narisawa. When ant larvae showed up at Nahm in Bangkok, René Redzipi was a dead giveaway and the confirmations came not long after. We got updates from Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco, who was at Hiša Franko spending his days trout fishing and hiking in the hills. Guzman, who was in Paris at Septime, sent us a photo of him using the presse à canard.
“We are dangerously prepared,” she says, even as unexpected complications arise in the hours before service.
The jaiba (crabs) come in with eggs attached. “Let’s use them,” she says, adding them to to the dish with the ravioli.
The caqui (persimmons) were not ripe. They weren’t meshing with the candied tangerine. The rica rica was out. She re-conceptualized the dish with the caqui, some nice honey, and alfalfa, all found together on the farm we visited. “It’s not my usual taste,” she says. “I usually go something sour, but it’s beautiful. Everything is honey.”
The last course was a tribute to Rodolfo. Or rather a friendly fuck you. She put a few of ingredients that inspired her during her travels in Chile and the nature she came across, like Rosa del año, an Atacama flower that blooms only on rare occasions. “Rodolfo said not to decorate his kitchen with flowers,” she says. “Let’s call it the pink desert.”
Ana Roš’ Chilean Menu for Gelinaz! Shuffle
Snacks: Potato & mussels; smoked beetroot, mora & fermented milk; scallop, luche butter, sea onion
1: Rock salad/sea parsley, piure, brined orange and carrot
2: Deer heart, sea urchin, nasturtium, pickled radishes
3: Cured and clay smoked jurel, pelillo, sunchokes, candied lemon
4: Blue langoustines, tree mushrooms, cochayuyo broth, Mapuche egg yolk
5: Liquid ravioli salicornia and rock chard, jaiba
6: Wild board tongue, oyster, ocean plants, sweet sour onion, papa bruja
7: All About Honey – Persimon, tangerine, almonds, honey meringue
8: Abeto and avellana chilena sponge cake, lemon curd, rosa del año, arrayan