Chef Christophe

The man making Dubai a little bit like Chile

Interview

The Week of Chile food festival is well underway, and you can catch a taste of South America at Market Café in the Grand Hyatt Dubai (04 317 1234), plus various Spinneys and Géant supermarkets around the city until December 1. Flown in especially from Santiago for the occasion, Chef Christope advises James Brennan about the festival, the food and where to snatch a crafty Pisco.

What can we look forward to at the Week of Chile food festival?
We can look forward to traditional recipes and produce flown in for the occasion, such as speciality seafood from the South Pacific Ocean.

Tell us what you’ll be doing.
I will be operating mainly out of The Market Café, Grand Hyatt, throughout the week. I was told we will also do one or two live cooking animations in the participating stores around Dubai as well.

What makes Chilean food distinctive from other South American food?
The difference is mainly in the produce and ingredients. Chile’s geography of over 4,500 km of coastline over three climate zones (from desert to ice fields) allows for a great variety of foods to be produced. The cold waters of Chile yield very different kinds of fish and seafood than the mostly tropical waters of the rest of South America. The mild weather of the central and southern parts (which could be compared to climate-wise to central and northern Europe) produces fruit and vegetables of similar varieties as those found in Europe, but of exceptional quality due to the richness of the soil. Another factor is the cultural variety: 98 per cent of the population is of European descent but with a good mix within that, giving the traditional food a contribution of indigenous plus roughly ten different European cultures, all in one. This also means we use considerably fewer hot spices than our neighbours and opt for the flavour of the individual ingredients.

What’s your favourite Chilean dish?
Ceviche and corn pie.

How can we tell our humitas from our ceviches?
Well, humitas is a vegetarian dish where corn puree with herbs is cooked within the corn leaves. Ceviche is a preparation of raw fish marinated in lemon juice and herbs for several hours. Different ceviche preparations are also found in other South American countries, but the differences are in the type of fish and the herbs or spices used.

Is it easy to cook Chilean food at home?
Indeed it is. Most traditional meals originate from home cooking. Some of them require a bit more work and time but generally they’re not too difficult.

What Chilean products can we look forward to in the supermarkets?
This is more a question for our Trade Commissioner in Dubai. I am only aware of what we will be cooking at the Grand Hyatt. However I am aware that you can already find a variety of Chilean fruit in Dubai such as apples, pears, grapes and berries. I also know of live lobster, salmon and other fish, which are served in Dubai’s top restaurants.

What are the three vital ingredients of Chilean cuisine?
Definitely corn would be the first one. It is used in many ways, for instance in the corn pie, humitas and several kinds of soups and consommés. Another well-used ingredient is onions. We have a few varieties of onions and all are used in meals, either fried, baked or raw. Onions are also used a lot in traditional salads. The third would probably be avocado. Although originally from Mexico, different species have evolved over the centuries due to climate and soil differences. We use avocado in many different ways to accompany meat, chicken, and seafood – and of course in salads.

If our readers need a quick Pisco, where can they have one?
Hopefully we will be able to prepare and serve Pisco Sour at the Grand Hyatt Dubai for the Week of Chile. Just don’t have too many of them (it’s an alcoholic drink); it feels very soft so it’s easy to have a few but the effect catches up with you shortly after.

What should our readers say after a great Chilean meal?
Well there isn’t really an after-meal saying, but before eating you usually say ‘buen provecho’, which is equivalent to the French ‘bon appétit’. So I encourage all your readers to come and experience the flavours of Chile and wish you all ‘buen provecho’.

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