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Rodolfo Guzmán: local hero

By: Reading Time: 3 Minutes

The Chilean chef has had an arduous journey, but today he finds himself among the world’s best chefs. He tells Tina Nielsen it was all worth it.

He opened his restaurant Boragó in Santiago, Chile in 2006, but it would take years for it to find the success it now enjoys. Today Rodolfo Guzmán is a well-known name in the gastronomy world and an authority on the dazzling biodiversity of his country’s cuisine, but this wasn’t always the case.

The path to becoming a successful chef

Everyone starts small – even the greatest chefs. So how did the path of Rodolfo Guzmán start out? “Cooking or opening a restaurant was never part of my plan, it just happened,” he says. “I wasn’t a very academic child and school was challenging for me, but during a stay in the US working in a bakery I discovered that I enjoyed cooking. When I came back to Chile my friend suggested I sign up for culinary school and I thought, ‘Why not?’.”

Rodolfo Guzmán - Chilean Top-Chef

Image: Claudio Vera – Borago

While a student the personality chefs came on TV, proving to be an inspiration for Guzmán. “I had a big passion for the profession. I read all those wonderful books, my first cookery book was Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and I was so inspired by these passionate chefs who were serious about the profession.”

Spain – the starting point of his career as a young professional 

Guzmán’s travels to Europe helped him develop as a young chef, he says. “I was disappointed that the reality in Chile restaurants didn’t match what I saw on TV. Here gastronomy was not important, and people didn’t take food seriously. When a friend of mine told me about what was happening in Spain – he told me about this mythical restaurant El Bulli and this other place called The Basque Country and I just thought ‘wow, I have to go’.”


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Ein Beitrag geteilt von Boragó (@boragoscl)

For two years Guzmán worked in Madrid and the Basque Country. His time there shaped him, and he learned a great deal “I discovered how to get involved with and working with producers and suppliers, people who were passionate about what they do. It taught me to become more professional.”

Back to Chile

Though he enjoyed his time in Europe Guzmán always knew he had to return home. “Chile is a country that has one of the biggest larders of endemic ingredients. I saw it very clearly – I wanted to open a restaurant that was different from all other restaurants, and we would cook exclusively with endemic ingredients from Chile. It had to be a restaurant where people understood without a doubt that it was a Chilean restaurant,” he says.


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Ein Beitrag geteilt von Boragó (@boragoscl)

While the plan was a sound one, it didn’t work out as he would have hoped. ”It was very difficult. People were much more interested in eating fish that was flown in from Japan than local ingredients. Chilean diners wanted foreign food because that was what the gastronomic press wrote about. To them charging for a local ingredient didn’t make sense. Price was linked to luxury and luxury was linked with what came from abroad. We really had a major problem,” he says.

While it may sound a little strange in a time when there is such a focus on regional sourcing and sustainability this was quite normal at that time. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop him from realizing his dream. “We documented everything, and we spoke with a lot of people about what we found and how they cooked them. To cook we had to learn about them first. By 2011 or 2012 I realized we had a dictionary of Chilean ingredients. We discovered things we never thought we’d discover,” he says.


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Ein Beitrag geteilt von Boragó (@boragoscl)

From an empty dining room to a fully booked restaurant

For Guzmán, experiencing an empty dining room was tough. “It was very difficult. I kept the restaurants going but we had no guests and a lot of debt. I tried to sell the restaurant several times with no luck. The biggest pressure for a chef is an empty restaurant,” he says.

The turning point came in 2013 with the launch of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. “Boragó entered the list in 8th place. That was life changing,” he says. “All of the sudden we were fully booked every day and people knew where we were. In 2015 we entered the global list of the 50 Best. Today people travel to Chile just to eat in Boragó – it really did change everything.”


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Ein Beitrag geteilt von Rodolfo Guzmán (@rgborago)

Chile’s position in world gastronomy today

Guzmán’s passion for rediscovering the old native ways of cooking and enriching them with contemporary knowledge and methods has contributed to his overwhelming success. “I would be lying if I said Chile was the new Mexico or Peru, that is just not true” he says, but he is optimistic for the future of the cuisine. “We are on a journey of discovery and the momentum of Chilean cuisine is enormous. We are starting to see things we have not seen before, young people are opening their own restaurants and that is fantastic.”

It was worth it

Any career has its ups and downs, but Rodolfo Guzmán wants to share one final thought with all chefs. “Today I will tell you my journey was all worth it, but it was very difficult. It gives me such great pride to share the cuisine of my country, food is always about sharing and I can’t share with people as a chef I can’t exist.”

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