Q&A with Chef Laurent Pasqualetto

by Liz Caskey on June 19, 2013

We recently sat down with the talented chef of The Singular Patagonia, Laurent Pasqualetto, the creative food/beverage engine of this spectacular hotel in Chile’s far flung Patagonia. One of the most noticeable differences at The Singular is the simply divine, fresh, creative food and wines that clearly put it a step above and beyond what other hotels in this rugged region are cooking up.

Laurent and I discussed over coffee how they’ve successfully carved out this, well, “singular” culinary niche along with the vision for their new hotel about to open in our neighborhood, in mid-2014.

How did you come to Chile—and specifically, Patagonia?

I came to Chile on vacation, to Santiago. I had met a Frenchmen in Paris who was married to a Chilean who wanted to open a restaurant in Chile. That never happened. Instead, I stayed on and ended up joining the Explora team to open the kitchen in their Atacama hotel in 1998. I eventually oversaw the entire food program for all three Explora hotels in Atacama, Patagonia, and Easter Island before leaving to join The Singular’s team.

Tell me how you got into cooking and what’s your inspiration.

I grew up in Ilhe de France about 45 km. west of Paris. My family was half Italian and half French (hence, the Italian surname). The Italian side of my family loved to cook and both my grandparents participated in the kitchen. On the French side, only my grandmother cooked. Many Sundays, as a family, we would set off in the morning to gather the ingredients for our lunch. We’d go to see the cheese monger, baker, buy fresh vegetables at the market. We’d usually split up to get the products then rejoin at home to cook together and assemble all the ingredients. We always procured the best products. In my family, I also had an uncle who was a cake maker and another who was a baker. I am a self-taught chef but learned a great respect for the best ingredients and preparation methods to honor them.

Define the food concept at The Singular Patagonia. How did you create local food connections/suppliers in such a remote region?

The concept of The Singular is very simple. Fresh. Local. Sustainable products. For example, we have been working with the fishermen in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales to only catch larger fish since the fjords’ fish population has been decimated from overfishing. Many artisan fishermen can no longer subsist and have to navigate up to 7 hours out into the Pacific. We have brought on local farmers who have their own organic or biodynamic huerta, farm, to have a dedicated supply for the hotel with native potatoes, herbs, and greens. With the biodynamic farming, we even try to harvest the same time every day for the vitality of the ingredients like our fresh salad. We also use local seaweed for the compost.

The menu has some “unusual” game meats not seen anywhere else in Chile. Can you talk about these specific dishes?

One of the original shareholders of Puerto Bories, the Maclean Family, still has a meat processing plant near Punta Arenas. In Tierra del Fuego (near Cape Horn), there is a serious guanaco (a camelid native to South America) overpopulation. During part of the year, hunting is permitted. Since these animals have few predators, maybe an occasional puma, if the population is not controlled they will eat the sparse vegetation causing other species to starve. We use their tender, succulent filet on our menu with a mote, pearl barley, salad with herbs. There also are very large hares (the size of small dogs) that overpopulate and these are also hunted as game. On the menu we offer hare as an appetizer in the traditional escabeche, vinegar marinade with carrot and onions which is usually made with rabbit (shown in the photos below). As a main course, we serve the loin with pears poached in red wine. With the fishermen, we also are able to source wild diver scallops that are sweet and tender and need only a few minutes on the grill in addition to the very famous centolla, king crab served as a salad.

How would you define the style of the dishes on the current menu?

My philosophy is simple. Respect the product and find the absolute best specimen. No dish should have any more than 4-5 ingredients or the flavors get muted and covered. We also respect the cooking point of all our ingredients. For example, crunchy roasted potatoes smashed in the mortar with a pestle are soft yet with crunchy edges; perfectly seared scallops or juicy and barely cooked with a buttery center; the tender rack of lamb and octopus cooked in the sous vide for hours melt in your mouth. We source from artisans around the region like our sheep’s milk cheese from a cheesemaker in Coyhaique to pair with the succulent rack of lamb you can almost eat with a spoon. That same cheese is pressed with a native potato into a type of gratin-terrine and served with traditional (British) mint sauce. The lamb in this area of the world, like in parts of England and France, has a slightly saline taste since the sheep graze on grasses near the brackish fjord waters.

Let’s talk about your vision of the food/wine pairing since there are so many great wines available.

Distribution of wines here is not easy, but our concept was to honor Chile’s terroir and pair that with our local food. We first looked at the local distribution and then what terroir wines we could source that show where the Chilean wine industry is moving today. We now have 56 labels on the menu, including many reference/icon wines and wonderful boutique wineries represented like Casa Marin and Perez Cruz. We also have the organic fair trade Miguel Torres País Estelado, a sparkling rosé wine many guests love for happy hour with our signature olives and crunchy vegetable chips, or a selection of our local craft beers like Baguales.

The restaurant, unlike many other “tourist” hotels, has its historic museum and restaurant open to the public. How has the project been received by the local community of Puerto Natales?

The restaurant, and hotel in general, have been warmly received in Puerto Natales, only 5km away. The locals come here to celebrate birthdays, promotions–and life! They love seeing the creative, responsible use of these local culinary ingredients and feel very proud with the history of Puerto Bories, the original meat processing plant that The Singular renovated to create the hotel. Without Puerto Bories, Puerto Natales never would have been born so there’s a strong connection.

Tell me about the concept for The Singular Santiago opening in Lastarria in mid-2014.

The new hotel in Santiago is quite different given its urban location in the middle of the city and shorter guest stays (1-3 nights). There will be a bar and restaurant on the first floor divided into two separate areas. The hotel design whispers of 1950s French-style, so we decided to break with all the current trends and offer an executive lunch via push carts, old school style. Given our proximity to the downtown and need for a “power lunch”, the idea is to have these elegant carts circulating with a fixed menu where servers can shave off roast beef, a spoonful of roasted vegetables, salad, etc. All the food will be very fresh and homemade but service quick and efficient for an hour-long lunch. In the evening, the restaurant will open as a refined spot with white tablecloths and the full a la carte menu.

Food-wise, since Santiago is in a Mediterranean garden, there is so much to incorporate to this menu—olive oil, local cheese, breads like sopaipillas, seafood, meats, all the seasonal produce available from the Central Valley, and even local seaweeds like cochayuyo. The menu will follow the concept of respecting the product and keeping it simple although it will be more “pan Chilean” since we have access to other regional ingredients from other areas of the country in the capital. Of course, here the wines will be hugely important since we have so many valleys close to the city.

Thanks to Laurent for sharing this vision!! To get everyone’s mouth watering, here are a few of our favorite dishes not mentioned above when we traveled to The Singular. This year, they also launched a full vegetarian menu. The Singular Patagonia is wonderfully creative with accommodating any special diet in a creative, fresh way. We cannot wait to have the privilege of dining there on our Yoga, Wine & Patagonia tour this December!
• Chilled avocado soup with crunchy radishes and croutons
• Veal cheeks served with tagliatelle pasta dressed with truffle oil butter
• Chupe de Centolla: Creamy King Crab pie
• Fresh hake served with cumin and honey carrots
• Mushroom gnocchi served with a beet leaf and mushroom sauce
• Charquicán de verduras: Savory vegetable stew with pumpkin and potatoes
• Lamb sweetbread salad with apple
Lucuma and chocolate cake served with homemade cinnamon ice cream
• Mil hojas (thin layer cake) with vanilla cream and manjar (Chilean dulce de leche)

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