Before meeting my friend Claudio – a Chilean native who although married to an Irish-man has not lost one bit of her accent or passion for Chile one bit – I’d never considered visiting South America, let alone Chile. The more I talked to her about her country, the cultural passions – she loves to dance, and the hospitality of the Chilean people I knew that I would soon be getting on a plane bound for Santiago.
Thankfully I didn’t have to take the 14hr 30min flight to Santiago to get a taste of Chilean hospitality and culture when I was a guest of Turismo Chile to their The Flavours of Chile event in Raw Materials Studio, Footscray… yes, in Melbourne’s industrial heart Chilean flavours and culture was on display, complete with giant paella pans, Chilean guitarron (guitar) players, and plenty of pisco!
Pisco Sour is my new favourite drink after being welcomed by a lady with a tray of these delicious delights. Quizzing the waiters I found that all you needed was Pisco, lime juice, egg white, Angostura bitters, ice cubes, and some garnish should you choose. It was the perfect accompaniment to empanadas and smoked salmon – yum!
The evening was about capturing the flavours of Chile – the delicate flavours of the Magallanic lamb rack, the freshness of a Chilean salad – tomato, red onion, coriander and olive oil, and the spiciness of the merkén – a chilli powder which was hot but with the sweetness of the berry chutney and walnuts encrusting the lamb, it was a delicious kick. Our meal wasn’t going to be prepared by chefs. Instead, armed with an apron we got to cook our own Chilean food… over a few glasses of Chilean wine, of course!
Our chef, Ignacio Martinez, ran us through the menu. Talking about the ingredients and product we’d be using through the night – Chilean olive oil, quinoa, merken and sultanas – and showing us the processes before sending us off to our benches.
Katherine and I were put in charge of the desserts at our station, creating spiced milk quinoa served with pisco sultanas with manjar and almond cake. It was a time consuming processes – soaking, boiling, cooling, and tasting (hey! we’re cooks and Masterchef taught me that tasting is one of the most important things to do) our way through the dessert.
Sitting down to the meal with a glass of Chilean Casillero del Diablo Reserva, I thought the eight of us had created a superb meal. The Magallanic walnut crusted land cutlets were delicate with a cripsy exterior and the berry chutney contrasted the earthiness of the walnuts and charquican of mashed vegetables and freshness of the Chilean salad.
The dessert was something special though – and I’m not just saying that because I helped cook it. So used to quinoa salads that can often be dry and not so pleasant, serving it in a jar topped with the spiced milk and the pisco sultanas introduced me to a new way to tasting what I had thought a boring food. On the side of the dessert was the caramel cake – simply puff pastry, manjar and finely chopped almonds. It took no more than 10-minutes to cook and with some strawberries topping it, offered a lovely balance of sweetness against the spiced milk quinoa cup.
As we ate our desserts we learned more about Chile, in particular the Lakes & Volcanoes region. I didn’t know that it was the world’s longest countries, that 80% of the country is covered in mountains (mainly the Andes) nor that so many products are exported from Chile to Australia – including many of the foods we ate and drunk during the evening.
The evening confirmed my thoughts were confirmed. With such a diverse culture, hospitable people and great food why have I not gone to Chile?!
Have you considered going to Chile?
Which Chilean food would you like to try?
I was a guest of Turismo Chile to their Melbourne event.
As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, though I’ll share the recipes if you ask nicely! 😉