Jóse Miguel González: Environmentally friendly cuisine from the Chilean Patagonia
As a child, Jóse Miguel always dreamed that he would be in a creative job when he grew up. Architect, Chemist, Designer… he had a lot of jobs in mind. As a child he was also aware that food was more than something that just filled you up. Currently, he is the Executive Chef at El Rincón del Gaucho Restaurant in Patagonia Park (Patagonia, Chile).
Jóse Miguel- A Chef’s Portrait
You are working as a Head Chef in the Patagonias. Where exactly is the restaurant El Rincón del Gaucho situated?
The restaurant sits inside the Patagonia Park, which was recently donated to the Chilean State by the Tompkins Conservation Foundation. In the past, the area was used for sheep pastures, as most of the surrounding area. In total there is over 80,000 hectares of pasture land. To the south, the park borders the Cochrane sea, to the north, it merges with the Jeinimeni National Park creating a total of 200,000 hectares of protected land.
At the moment the foundation is focused on the recovery of meadows, and the protection and restoration of native plants an animals. The park is located in the region of Aysén which is about 2,400 kilometers from the Capital of Santiago.
Since you are working in a Natural Park, are there special rules you have to work by?
No, there are no special rules or laws that need to be followed, outside of being very careful of how we dispose of and separate our waste. The Organic waste product stays in the park, so we have to dispose of it in a way that the wind doesn’t carry the scent to the animals. Also, an amount of that is used as compost.
I have to say, when you are surrounded by nature you quickly get a sense of admiration and respect of it. It hits you right in the face, and you get this feeling of responsibility for your environmental impact. You feel like some sort of invader and end up trying to minimize the impact of being there. Everyone should be in harmony with their values and their actions.
Slowly we are becoming more environmentally aware, and developing more and better methods of protection and respect. It’s a hard road, but step-by-step, we can do it.
What are you offering culinary-wise?
We’ve fused “farm-to-table” with the cuisine of the hills here. Our garden is 100% organic and with Organic-intensive methods cultivated in smaller batches. The team leader, together with the apprentices had done a remarkable job: They have 35 products that have an incomparable quality in the very productive garden. Within a period of only six months, five tons of product was cultivated in an area smaller than one hactare (mainly baby leaves). This enables us to offer fresh vegetables without chemicals and amazing flavor in our dishes.
Throughout the season (from October until April) we don’t have access to all vegetables so that’s why we make our own preserves: Sausages, fermented products, brined assortments, jams and marmalades. In addition we are heavily focused on meats of the highest quality.
We produce our own sheep and boar sausage (introduced to Patagonia). We believe that gastronomie and the area need to go hand-in-hand. We would like our guests to enjoy the landscape just as much as the food. It all belongs to a very unique experience.
How often is the menu rotated?
Our aim is to change the menu once a year, of course there are some dishes that stay on, they are types of signature dishes so they should not be missing. Other dishes are modified, improved or completely revamped. Aside from that we also have a daily special.
Which products does nature in Southern Chile offer you?
A lot of berries such as barberry, the Chilean guava, blueberries, red and black currants and sarsaparilla. Additionally we have the best Chilean meats, juicy and full-flavored. We stay away from animals such as Salmon, pork, and cattle beef that are intensively farmed.
Your relationship to nature is very close. Do you see a big difference between processed products?
Of course! That’s also why we avoid using product coming from intensive farming or cultivation methods where people are not a part of a productive system.This type of production isn’t very healthy for people and it ends up poisoning the planet.
The Chilean Patagonia has seen migration from all corners of Europe: Germany, Croatia, Spain and Poland. Does this mixture of different origins play a gastronomical role?
In the cities of the region you can really see the influence the flow of immigration has had, especially the last wave of immigration. In the towns and in the countryside, not so much. Due to the extreme climate conditions and poor connections between the villages, tradition reigns king in the Aysén region. The townsfolk of the region still eat just like their grandparents did.
Are dishes from the Pre-Hispanic times still preserved?
No. This region was isolated from the rest of the world for a long time. The villages are relatively new, and there is not much of a pre-hispanic culture. In this region were mostly nomadic peoples, so no settlements or gastronomic culture was left behind.
Last question. If you had to switch to a new restaurant, in which type of concept would you most like to work?
To be honest, I have no idea. I feel like I have have found my identity as a Chef. I would like to bring this fusion, that we have created here, along with me to the next project. We want to take preserves to the next level, create an intelligent product that is not only healthy and environmentally friendly, but also socially aware. You will hear more about it soon, I don’t want to give to much away.
We can’t wait to hear more about Patagonian preserves, Jóse. Thank you and till next time!
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