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May 2004

Ruperto de Nola:
The most Chilean of palates

A professor, lawyer and sociologist, Ruperto de Nola is also the President of Chile's Gastronomical Chronicler Circle. To listen to him speaking passionately about our gastronomy makes one want to know and taste several entrées, to get their smells, remember its shapes and colors and re-create all those traditions associated with them.

By Beatriz García-Huidobro


—Where does your interest for gastronomy come from?
—We used to eat really well at my grandfather's house. My mother had two sisters who were nuns, and one of them lived at our house. In Carrera street, there used to be a Family Education Institute where girls could study cooking, and these two aunts taught there. That's why we had splendid cooking at my house, and since I lived at my grandfather's house for a long time, so I got the interest. Later I went to study to England, and while my wife was at work I was at home, cooking. There, I had all the imaginable ingredients that one can find in such a cosmopolitan place.

—Your comments associate several contents. Which are your favorite consult sources?
—The truth is I never consult a thing. When you start getting older and with everything you have ever read, you start relating things. When tasting an entrée, you may remember some other you tasted somewhere else.

—So you have a privileged memory?
—Yes, I never forget what I eat. I like relating food and literature. So did Proust, who wrote a book with the detail of his favorite recipes. In English literature you always read about what the characters eat. Chilean literature is completely food—free. Characters go through everything, but they never seem to eat.

—How important is for you gastronomical criticism?
—Criticism of any cultural work, such as literature, music or food, has a solid and undestroyable subjective component: you liked it or you did not. Then you start rationalizing, giving reasons about why yes or why not. There are some objective factors such as the food's temperature, the speed and correctness of the service, cleanliness, decoration.

Culinary identity
—Do you think gastronomy is related to cultural identity?
—In Chile, we've had a culinary culture that is not completely ours, but from a south zone of America: Argentina's northwest, Peruvian south (in what's sweet), the south of Bolivia, Chile and Paraguay. We have some recipes that distinguish us, like the Chilean "empanadas" —that are different to the rest: they're all delicious, but different one from the other. But this association between Chile and our food is now being lost, because of two main reasons: globalization and the lost of those housemaids that used to work in middle-class homes. Cookers meant a bridge between the city and the country: they used to bring to the urban houses the traditions, and maintain a line which is now cut. Most young people have grown in houses where there was no country-woman cooking, so they barely now those traditional recipes. Most of the young chefs, no matter how talented, have never eaten a true "charquicán" nor a good "carbonada".

—So do you feel that globalization harms local gastronomies?

—It's an attack, but one that produces a very healthy reaction. With the imperialism coming from abroad, people have started to look and value what's their own.

—Are you optimistic about the cappacity of our gastronomy to define and project itself to the new generations?
—As a reaction to globalization, a lot of people and chefs are rescuing typical products: seeds, potatoes, cochayuyos, quinoa, corn mote, charqui. Unfortunately, there is still no recipe recovery, and it is the recipes that contain tradition and where our collective identity is revealed. And that is a work which is long due, because older women are dying and, with them, our recipes.

The flavour of the sea
—Would you say the low consumption of fishes, seaweeds and seafood is a contemporary or an ancestral problem?
—The "huasa" cooking is what we understand as "traditional" and, along with the one developed in the city, it is mainly from the plains: a lot of pork, beef, "empanadas". In Chile people eat very little fish, and now rarely use cochayuyo or luche. The presence of the sea in our table is very poor and in that we are similar to the English, who also have a large coast.

—You once said that Japanese food was "castaway food". Are you now reconciled with it?
—No, I haven't been able to, eventhough I do recognize that their soups are very good, also the "gyosas". The Japanese are smart, they know how to decorate, but what taste can you find in raw fish? Besides, the wasabi kills any flavor. And ginger is delicious, but it does not come from Japan but from Asia's southeast.

—Any recipes you suggest with sea products?
—I really like fish and seafood. The best way to cook them is to barely touch them, so to enhace its natural flavours. A baked "sierra" or "cojinova", can be fantastic, just add a little butter, white wine and herbs. Fried fish is even better, but you must be good at frying, which is hard. I would also sugest the "Cordelia cochayuyo" from the book "La buena mesa": it has corn, tomato, cream and fried potatoes.

—Which would you choose as the six key ingredients of Chilean cuisine?
—Congrio, beans, corn, Chilota-potatoes, charqui and lucuma. I believe that the world's best lucuma desserts are made in Chile.

—Which places in Chile would you recommend to enjoy our traditional cuisine?
—"El Hoyo", founded in 1912, in Gorbea street near Exposición (Santiago's downtown). A clean, popular and fun place where you will find delicious empanadas, arrollado and an excellent and traditional "comida huasa". At Valparaiso's "Nuevo O'Higgins" bar you can eat marvelous pork. In Concepcion you have "El Riquén", marvelous Chilean food, both rural and coastal. Besides, it is decorated like a museum, full of old rural objects.




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