The Chilean Chocolatero

by Liz Caskey on February 19, 2016


Meet Mark Gerrits. He’s the energy, and passion, behind Chile’s first bean-to-bar chocolate: ÓBOLO. Made right here in Santiago de Chile.

ÓBOLO is provoking a long-awaited, and very necessary, revolution in chocolate here in Chile. Prior to existing, chocolate was imported and mostly manipulated into sweet bonbons with remelted European chocolate. ÓBOLO is turning that playing field upside down. It’s Chile’s first, and only, bean-to-bar chocolate project. That means a bar of ÓBOLO chocolate only contains two ingredients: (organic) cacao and cane sugar.

ÓBOLO’s name is symbolic. Meaning gift, a synonym of regalo in Spanish, its origins can be traced back to ancient Greece where it also was the word for a coin. Fittingly, prior to the Spanish arrival to the New World, the cacao bean was used as currency for trade in Mesoamerica.  Gerrits also adds that, “I have a lot to be thankful and grateful for.  I am in debt for everything that Latin America has given me in the past 20+years. I would like to be able to say thanks and pay back a bit, and ÓBOLO is a way of doing it.  If I can contribute by inspiring a tectonic shift in the chocolate culture in Chile, improving quality and connecting the consumers to its roots in the rainforest, then that will be my grain of sand to the country.”

So how did a gringo like Mark get to making chocolate here, anyhow?


Gerrits has been living in Chile for over two decades during two separate stints from 1993 to 1999 and then in 2003 to present. In between, he lived in Ecuador where he discovered the fascinating world of cacao and chocolate in the rainforest. He worked with the cacao-producing communities for Yachana Gourmet (a direct trade, gourmet chocolate company) and got first hand experience in directly sourcing cacao from small farmers to transform those beans into a finished chocolate product for export. Around that time, he met Robert Steinberg, the co-founder of the outstanding San Francisco-based Scharffen Berger chocolate who was traveling to Ecuador to search for new sources of cacao beans. In particular, Steinberg was on a quest to procure the rare porcelana, a white cacao bean.

Having heard of Mark’s work with cacao producers in the Ecuadorian jungle, he outreached and they set off on epic adventure in search of those highly coverted porcelana beans. They traveled by canoe through Amazonian tributaries, trekking into the forest to meet locals, learn about their cacao, and sample beans.  While they never did find them, Gerrits unearthed something equally valuable—a friendship with Steinberg who became his chocolate mentor. He credits Steinberg with teaching him much about cacao and chocolate making; things he employs today with ÓBOLO.  As Gerrits points out, “The most significant lesson I learned from Steinberg is about cacao bean fermentation: How to do it properly and how it influences the final taste and quality of the chocolate. “


As a chocolate-maker, Mark sources his production from the central Peruvian jungle in “nano-lots”, bringing in several sacs of 64 kilos at a time. He found the organic farm sourcing his beans on a scouting trip to Peru in 2015. He selected them not only for the quality of the beans (flavors, aroma, fermentation, and genotype), but also the co-op’s governance, relationship with producers, and finally social and environmental impact. He has the beans selected, dried, and imported (via ship) to Chile. While this sounds easy enough, dealing with SAG (Chile’s agricultural police), is a huge hurdle no other chocolatero has done locally. Ever. Given the strict limitations on how organic goods can come into the country (Chile is essentially an island and free of many pests found elsewhere in the world), it took significant time, energy, and patience to navigate the red tape to get his dried cacao beans to Santiago.

Perservance, though, paid off. He received his precious cargo and was able to start his venture. Things have gone so well that he took the leap and quit his ten-year job at The Nature Conservancy to fully dedicate himself to ÓBOLO. Currently, he makes three bars: plain, with sea salt from Cahuil, and fresh nibs. He also sells freshly ground chocolate nibs, whole cacao beans, and is evaluating selling the cacao skins in the future for winter-time infusions (tea), given the health benefits of pure cacao.

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According to Garrits, “Making a bean-to-bar chocolate is difficult.  Making a successful business out of bean to bar chocolate is even more difficult.  I respect and find inspiration in all of the bean-to-bar chocolate makers around the world who are following their dreams and sharing their passion with others, while trying to make a living out of it.”  He also mentions that his goal is to produce a world-class chocolate that can be enjoyed locally in Chile, and put Chile on the chocolate-making map. For the time being, he is focusing on sourcing the beans from Peru and growing his chocolate baby. Down the road, though, he doesn’t rule out single origin bars from Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia.

Not long ago, we met with Mark and his wife, Annie, at our home for wine, tapas, and an ÓBOLO (dessert) tasting. During our ramblings on life, food, wine, chocolate and Chile, we discussed if there really are discernable differences between varieties and origins of cacao beans, similar to grape varietals and terroir in wine.  Flavor obviously varies not only in the origin (between say Peru, Madasgascar and Java) but can potentially change from year-to-year. To this point, he had just received an importation of the 2015 harvest and is still working on test roasts and batches in order to identify the unique flavor and aromatic profile. We thought a “vertical” chocolate tasting of his two harvests, 2014 and 2015, would be incredibly fun.

While I don’t want to ruin your own impressions of ÓBOLO, because you HAVE to try it, the flavor is brisk and fruity with almost no bitterness or harshness in the aftertaste. It lingers and leaves your mouth clean. We also found some nuttiness in the ending. The mildness of the bar allows some of the gentler flavors of the beans to shine through. This was the first time both my husband and I truly sensed how a chocolate is born from a fruit. Yes, cacao is a fruit.

We’ve tried ÓBOLO with coffee and wine, and for our palates, wine wins every time. Sparkling wine, a variety of reds from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, blends…all worked. This chocolate is truly one of the most wine friendly chocolates out there. Mark cited that many high-end wineries have started pairing their wines with his chocolate, too, for the same reasons. Dark, complex, fruity, low in sugar, it’s the perfect partner for a glass of Chilean red.

The night we got together, Mark had (beforehand) generously “sourced” me some samples of his 70% and 100% chocolate to let my culinary creativity run with ÓBOLO. While I initially had visions of recreating a Pierre Hermé layered chocolate dessert, after assessing options, ÓBOLO is so pure that I decided I had to take the road of least intervention in order to honor it’s flavor profile. That is, I only needed to play with texture. I decided to do a trio: moist classic US-style brownies with the 100% chocolate and the 70% for chocolate covered almonds and truffles. The truffles went in two directions: one nutty & fruity rolled in crushed pistachios and matcha powder; the other, intense and chocolaty rolled in crushed (ÓBOLO) nibs and flaky sea salt from the Argentine Patagonia (similar to Maldon). Both truffles were insanely good. Deep, deep, DEEP flavor. Clean. Fruity. Intense. Nutty. I loved them both, but the nibs-sea salt won (Mark agreed).

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During our evening together, Mark said something that really resonated with my husband and I: “I have always found beauty and peace in observing the expert craftsperson working purposefully on their art and passion.  I find it noble, courageous and contributing.  I do believe that I have found my craft and passion with chocolate and ÓBOLO.”

We most definitely, too, think he has.

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Chocolate Truffles

Makes about 16-18 truffles

These truffles actually get better in flavor the next day. Ideally make 12-24 hours ahead and keep in the frig in a tin, or wax paper-lined plastic container.


For the truffles:

4 cups premium dark chocolate like ÓBOLO (if in the US, Gerrits suggests companies like Rogue Chocolate), broken into small chunks

2/3 cup heavy cream, at room temperature

1/3 cup pistachios, toasted, shelled and pulsed in food processor to a find meal

1 tablespoon matcha powder (available from Asian grocers)

1/2 cup freshly ground cacao nibs

1 tablespoon sea salt (I used flaky crystals from the Argentine Patagonia (Chabut province) similar to Maldon, which would work nicely as a substitute)


In a large saucepan, bring 2 to 3 cups of water to a simmer. Create a warm water bath by placing a heatproof glass or stainless-steel bowl over the saucepan of simmering water.  Add the chocolate and heavy cream to the bowl. Mix well with a spatula to combine as the chocolate melts. Be gentle here when tempering chocolate!

Remove the bowl from the heat and transfer the chocolate mixture to a parchment paper–lined loaf pan or shallow bowl and cool completely to room temperature. Place in to the fridge for 90 minutes to solidify.

Using a small melon baller, or your hands, scoop out the truffle mixture and roll into 1-inch balls.

On a plate, place the ground pistachios and roll half the truffles in them, pressing the nuts gently into the surface. Using a sifter (or fine-mesh strainer), dust the truffles with the matcha powder.

Pulse the nibs and sea salt in a food processor to grind to a fine, even meal. Place on a plate and repeat the truffle-rolling process with the other half of the truffles.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

I suggest letting them sit out at room temperature approximately 20-30 minutes before serving so they are tender in texture when you bite into them. Similar to decanting a wine (which you could do when you get the truffles out of the frig), you fully appreciate the flavors at room temperature. Eating a cold truffle will mute all that gorgeous fruity chocolaty expression.

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The Renaissance Port

by Liz Caskey on February 2, 2016

Valparaiso_01February is vacation month in Chile. Half of Santiago seems to relocate to the coast, only about an hour or so away. While many are clustering on the petit stretches of sandy beaches on those rocky shores, we have been revisiting the port of “Valpo”. Ahem, I mean, Valparaiso.

It’s a colorful jumble of a city clinging to the steep hillsides (over 20 of them). While the historic area has had a renaissance recently, Valparaiso has always had an appeal. For over a century, it’s a melting pot of people coming from all corners of the globe (many via sea, how romantic). There’s a corriente of artists that give it a very Bohemian vibe, including the bright graffiti and murals that are painted across the hills. The architecture is bright and charming, and whispers of its past when it was gem on the route from Europe to the west coast of the Americas. And, perhaps for many foodies, the motive (mine included), is the gastronomic draw. It’s a very happening place to eat and drink.

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Here are some favorite things in this fascinating city that definitely merits a day–or three.

Be a Kid Again

Plaza Sotomayor may be where the naval heroes rest, the dinghies bob in the choppy port water, and the tourists throng in high season, but the true meeting place in Valparaiso is Plaza Victoria. Across from the cathedral, it’s a typical plaza studded with beautiful Chilean palms and grand old trees, benches, a gazebo and vendors selling churros and palomitas (popcorn). Local kids play on the swings or hop on the vintage carrousel (including our daughter who took her first ride here). One of my favorite spots in Chile, Puro Café, is on the corner. The owners are Colombian and know their craft. They toast their own beans to perfection and the espresso is exquisito.

Enter Time Machine

No, not referring to your computer. One of Valparaiso’s inherent charms is this vintage vibe it maintains year after year. The 1950s electric trams (with the same vinyl seats from decades ago) still run like clockwork. You can sip a pisco sour in al century-old, haunted bar like La Playa. Meander near Cardonal Market on Pedro Montt and you’ll stumble upon old emporios (grocers) with their elegant wooden shelving from floor to ceiling–the same many grandparents would remember as children. And then, there are all those Valparaiso “characters”: el Motemei, the sailors, the nuns circulating in their habits. Bells toll always in the distance on a hillside. Valparaiso feels authentic. Real. Very old world.

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Whipped Bread

The rest of Chile calls it Marraqueta. In Valparaiso, it’s pan batido, or whipped bread. It’s the same bread with different theories on how it came to bear its present name. Everybody seems to agree that it originated in the port in the late 19th century when many European immigrants were arriving. Local tales say two French brothers with the last name Marraquette were responsible for getting Chile hooked on this baguette-like bread. Whatever the name’s origin, nowadays with so many artisan bakeries caving to supermarkets, it pays to scout out an oldie here. An oldie but goodie is Panadería Andina near Plaza Victoria. I suggest going in the afternoon around 6pm—aka, onces (Chilean tea time). Be sure you are fully prepared to honor that warm marraqueta with acceptable toppings such as mashed avocado and sea salt; or good mantequilla de campo (country butter) with jam.

An Urban Gym

When Sportlife (a big Chilean gym chain) opened on the main plaza, I almost fell over. What fools are running on those treadmills when there are literally THOUSANDS of staircases connecting the labyrinth of streets, alleys, and passageways in the hills?! Many of these staircases look fairly short and sweet. Mind you, most are vertical quad busters that will leave you a sweaty, heap at the top of them. That’s actually, I realized, a blessing in disguise. With the before-said food scene, and calories inevitably to be consumed, using your feet to take you into the hills is a good idea. Plus you can be nosy (but not weird), and sneak a peak into porteño private lives as you wind past front doors and intimate courtyards. Just wear very comfortable shoes. If you are too pooped to make it back down, or have a “wine situation” post lunch, salvation appears in the form of the rickety (but reliable) ascensores, funiculars. They will take you to the plano level in about 45 seconds. Just hold on.

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Comer y Ser Feliz

Eat and Be Happy. This is why we come to Valparaiso. Maybe for the day. Hopefully a weekend. There are so many cool restaurants and food projects happening here (and cool boutique hotels, too). Want a quick study in porteño foodstuffs? Head to Mercado El Cardonal where bushels, crates, and piles of seasonal fresh produce teem from every corner with lively caseros (vendors). Across town in the more rough-and-tumble port barrio, there’s the fish market. Quality can be hit or miss depending on the day of the week but joints around the market like Los Porteños have been around forever to taste unpretentious Chilean seafood classic dishes like paila marina or machas a la parmesana. 

Personally? I love getting high into the hills to the hip, refined spots that have come into their own. If before I couldn’t step foot in Valparaiso without eating at Pasta e Vino, now I am totally obsessed with Espiritu Santu. It’s an unassuming little trattoria on a typical street on Cerro Bellavista. Maybe it’s the natural flight that floods the place with high ceilings, the short and sweet menu that’s truly perfectly executed locavore cuisine, a fantastic list of MOVI wines, or most likely, the gracious (English-speaking) owner Laura (the chef’s mother). Right now, it’s my Valpo oyster. When I woke up dreaming the other night of their grilled octopus with miso sauce, I knew it may have gone too far.

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Candy Woman

There’s been a boom in food artisans and I am smitten with La Dulcería in the heart of cool Cerro Alegre. This candy store is just too cute for words. I become a child again when I pass the threshold. The colors, the flavors…the sugar. Owner Ángela Alfageme is the genius behind this colorful corner who sharpened her craft as a candy-maker in Barcelona. Everything from the soft, floral violet chews to the tangy and very Chilean pisco sours caramels, and the handmade red hots are amazing. The flavors change weekly, seasonally, and are all natural. They also showcase their candy-making art as they roll out designs on the handsome marble counter right in front of you.

One Last Word

For those coming to Valparaiso in vehicle (and not familiar with the city previously). Parking can be difficult, pricey, streets maze-like and not well marked (although GPS oddly does ok). For those challenged with the only manual shift option with rental cars in Chile, please don’t forget the steep hillsides. Man, those can be a bee-otch, especially in the rain. (Remember Lombard Street in San Francisco? Yeah, that’s average here). While Valparaiso is tranquilo, it’s best never to leave things in the car. The easiest solution is letting somebody else who knows the city man the ship (so to say), and just gawk at the beautiful facades, hillsides, and sparkling Pacific below.

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Dreams Can Come True

by Liz Caskey on December 9, 2015


What if you could make your dream a reality? Would you sell everything you own, move to another continent, and dedicate all your passion and energy to making that happen? That’s what Michael Paravicini did. The Swiss-born owner of Vira Vira Hacienda Hotel, in Southern Chile, decided on his 50th birthday that the time was now. And he acted on it.

Paravicini always had a dream to build and run a small boutique hotel since he was a boy. He first visited Chile in his youth in 1976 with his family and was awe stuck by the beauty of Pucon, Villarrica, and the Chilean Lake District, an hour’s flight south of Santiago. That smitten feeling lingered, even while pursuing a career in IT in Switzerland. A few decades later, he searched, and found, his perfect corner to build the boutique hotel he’d envisioned just outside Pucón. It was the right place to grow his seed. He cited Chile’s safety, unmatched beauty, hardly-touched national parks, and a variety of activities ready to be developed as the right conditions to bring it to fruition. He then gathered a top-notch team of architects, designers, and the support of his wife, Claudia, with her incredible taste for interior design.

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We visited Vira Vira when it was just a “newborn” last spring. At that time, not all the grass was planted, some details were still being sorted out in the villas and suites, and the service team was just coming together. However, Michael cared. And it showed. His belief and commitment to his dream had an infectious trickle down effect in everyone at Vira Vira. They wanted to do their best. In the months to come, not only would Vira Vira flap its wings and fly, but would go on to surpass any initial expectation. Imagine, at the tender age of one year, it has become Chile’s newest Relais & Chateaux property.

Given it was our infant daughter’s first trip on an airplane (three months old at that time), we couldn’t help but notice the parallels between a dream and a small child. Both needed nurturing and love to grow. Vira Vira was so accommodating to us as a young (new) family as we set up “home” from their a handsome split-level villa facing the babbling Liucura River. Clad in local lenga and alerce wood, the villa was tastefully decorated with colorful, hand-crafted woolens. Micaela fell in love with Vira Vira’s iconic wooden sheep that grace every room and many corners of the hotel. Michael kindly sent them for her nursery in Santiago so we remember Vira Vira every day.


Most of the time, though, Vira Vira felt more like visiting a friend than being in a high-end hotel. Sure it was all-inclusive, high design, and activities galore, but it had a different scale. It was human and personalized (it only has 21 rooms total). A highlight of Vira Vira was the food. They truly employ the farm-to-table concept. In this day of industrialized food and production chains, it is a rare, connective experience to wake up each day knowing where your meal comes from. Vira Vira grows its own organic grains like rye, wheat, and oats (which are milled for their own flours in a special imported machine); organic seasonal vegetables (some even foraged); has all types of dairy like eggs, milk, yogurt, and different kinds of cheeses (including their exquisite mature Parmesan); raises and slaughters (ethically) free range fresh meat like poultry, turkey, goose, duck, goat, sheep and wild boar. This coming year, Michael proudly mentioned they would be starting their own in-house production of smoked fish and artisan sausages.



Guests at Vira Vira accompany him on a tour of the (working) Hacienda to get a sense of his vision, the wholeness of the project, and where their meals come from. It’s a link to humanity and nature not seen in most hotel projects—anywhere. We walked along the edge of the property near the river, past Paravicini’s home (who lives there much of the time), moved by the beauty, care, and effort going into this place and every single detail. It was done the way it should be…but most importantly, with love. Michael confesses that, from a purely commercial point of view, many of his hotel decisions may not be considered the best return on investment (at least in the short term). However, his larger commitment to his dream is clear. His belief that his guests deserve the best, regardless of the cost.

Every night, the tasting menu was an adventure and foray into seasonal vegetables, perfectly prepared meats and local foods. Anything nature was bearing at that time of year was game. Dihuenes (sweet golden funghi growing on lenga trees) were made into a limey-pineapple ceviche. The succulent sautéed morels came with toasted cashews and a honey-merken dressing. I could have lived on their handpicked green salads alone, present at every meal. The flavors were pure, clean, healthy, and delicious. The well-curated wine list showed a similar level of care in selecting wines representative of Chile’s diverse terroir.

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Besides eating, during our short visit at Vira Vira, we hiked in ancient forests with towering Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle trees) and walked past gushing crystalline rivers. We had high tea one sun-drenched afternoon on the shores of Lake Caburga. We visited an authentic Mapuche village where we met a traditional weaver. We explored the cutesy, albeit touristy, town of Pucon on a mission to find rhubarb jam (success!). On a future trip, we hope to do Michael’s favorite excursion, which is simply floating (on a raft) down the Liucura River. As he puts it, “It’s simply spectacular”.

In Michael’s eyes, Vira Vira is really about three things: “Enjoying a cozy, luxury hotel embedded in a beautiful and hardly touched landscape; savoring every day healthy, home-grown gourmet food; and, finally, experiencing unique excursions with some of the best guides in the region. The only thing we care about is that the client feels at home, enjoys every moment and truly feels that a personal dream has come true”.

What could be more delicious than sharing your life dream with the world? Well, for guests who come to Vira Vira, partaking and savoring his.


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La Marraqueta

by Liz Caskey on October 8, 2015

Baguette_Bread_1La baguette. This slender loaf of bread symbolizes France and so much about its identity. The baguette defines the national identity, molding and giving it shape. During our time in France, nearly a month, we followed the hallowed daily ritual of la baguette. We savored it often still warm, just out of the oven, and ate it every single day. Every block had at least one bakery. Sometimes, there were three, maybe even four or five. All were small businesses. During “peak” times of the day, patrons would stand in lines waited quietly for their bread. One Saturday morning near our apartment in Batignolles, I was caught off guard when asked about the doneness of the baguette. Qu’est que c’est? She was asking if I preferred it pas trop cuite (not too cooked) or bien cuite (well done). Thinking in our one-year-old baby (and her lack of molars), I went with the first option.

In the mornings, I loved waking to the aroma of toasted baguette, slathered with a pat of salted butter from Normandy and a smear of apricot jam. Often while out, baguette would appear on the table at lunch. Some evenings, we decided that baguette with a cheese board and wine was a completely acceptable dinner option. Any baguette that passed the apartment door never lasted to the next day. And if it did, chances were that it was rock hard and only suitable to be crushed into crumbs.

The seemingly quotidian routine of going to the bakery always proved to be a pleasurable experience. Besides being able to practice my French, I loved inhaling the yeasty perfume and watching how they stacked their bread with such care. When I was lucky enough to time with baguette coming straight out of the oven, I would dote on its crusty, golden exterior and white, spongy, warm interior. Usually, I could not resist pulling off a piece, which was like biting into heaven. Nothing was more delicious in that moment–so elemental and totally handmade. Even Micaela, our baby daughter, couldn’t resist. She happily munched away in the stroller on a piece of bread (which we also discovered was a wonderful form of entertainment). With baguette, she learned how to properly chew and transitioned from purees to baby led weaning shortly after.

The baguette business in France is a serious one, so much that in 1993 they passed the law, Le Décret Pain, declaring that in order to be a baguette maison (homemade), only four ingredients could be used: flour, water, salt, and yeast. To be called a baguette tradition, no preservatives or frozen dough could be used. In a nutshell, this law sought to protect the integrity of French bread. It also recognized and protected the bakers and their small businesses who dedicate their lives to providing the French people with this primary food (a very honorable profession in France).

Baguette_Bread_3Landing back in Chile, I started to observe the bread culture here more closely. Certainly, Chile has its own bread tesoro (treasure), la marraqueta, which is actually called pan francés (French bread) in Valparaiso. Similar to France, it’s unthinkable that any Chilean household would be without marraqueta on the table at meal times. According to recent statistics, Chile is still one of the largest consumers of bread in the world. Chileans devour more than 90 kilos (198 pounds) of bread per capita, per year. To give you an idea of quantities, that is nearly an average of half a pound of bread every day for every Chilean (somewhere around 9 pieces of toast). This is over 35% more than the amount the French consume, which comes in at 58 kilos (128 pounds) per capita, per year.

While marraqueta certainly can be found everywhere, not all are made equal. I went on a mission to find a bakery in my barrio making them the traditional way. The few bakeries I encountered had marraquetas ready to bake (full of preservatives) or bought them already made. Many people just went to the supermarket instead. I extended my search to the downtown. Nada. Then I remembered my old bakery in Barrio Brasil that had closed, tragically, due to lack of clientele. As the owner had lamented at that time, many Chileans opt now to buy their marraqueta at the supermarket. It’s easier. Convenient. The kiss of death for any culinary tradition.

If this the reality of the state of bread in Chile today, are traditional bakeries in danger of extinction? Are Chileans opting for convenience over the value of artisan-made bread? I surmise that this, sadly, seems to be the case. And it perplexes me. Deeply. This is not just about the bread itself. It’s about what’s behind it; how it’s made and the larger cultural meaning. The tradition of making marraqueta risks being lost. It’s not only about going out to buy the bread and eating it to satisfy hunger. There is sacred ritual here of how Chileans supply themselves with this daily food. This is about the hands that make the bread. They bake it. They give it life. Sure, marraqueta is humble enough. But this folded bread, which does bare some resemblance with the French baguette, also defines Chileans. Think of all the breakfasts, lunches, onces (tea time) and sandwiches that come together with its perfectly golden, crunchy exterior yielding to that soft, chewy dough.

Baguette_Bread_2Bakeries bring neighborhoods together. They are patriarchs that see generations of neighbors grow up together. A baker becomes a friend and a trusted casero. To give a little contrast to the slow industrialization of marraqueta in Chile, in France, more than 70% of all bread is still made in small boulangeries—and the French actually prefer this. It’s not just about the convenience or a slightly better price. They value human relationships, the integrity of ingredients and the traditional way to make bread. They recognize that the baguette feeds their society, their culture, and their daily way of life.

So for those of us who live in Chile, what can we do to reclaim this bread tradition? Frankly, I think the power is in everybody’s hands. When it’s time to buy the daily marraqueta, every Chilean can choose. They decide where to buy, from whom, and how authentically their marraqueta is made. They can seek out the small baker in the neighborhood…or they can go to the big supermarket. The quality and experience are vastly different. What may seem to be a simple act of going to buy bread could be the destiny of this food that is so intrinsic to Chile.

Call me old school but I dream about seeing the marraqueta returning to be a totally artisanal product. I want us to support small bakeries and see them flourish until there’s one on every block. I hope that, someday, standing in line at those bakeries, I will overhear opinions of how Chileans prefer to eat their marraqueta. Perhaps a little more quemadita (golden) or tierna (tender). Maybe debate if it’s better with mashed palta (avocado) or a slab of mantequilla de campo (country butter). I yearn to see these bakeries become a cornerstone in every neighborhood and contribute to the quality of life there. Truly, bread brings us together. The marraqueta, however, will only continue to a culinary tesoro in Chile (as so chefs many like to tout it these days) if everyone stops to recognize, appreciate, and protect its tradition.

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Chilote Magic

by Liz Caskey on September 17, 2015

Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_1We had no longer taken off from the southern city of Puerto Montt and we were already preparing to land on the island of Chiloé, the fifth largest in South America. Twenty minutes in the air, to be exact. As the plane descended through wispy, bumpy clouds, we caught glimpses of the undulating hills covered with dense pine forests and green pastures by the sparkling sea. Chiloé may be only a ferry crossing (or now a short flight) from Chile’s southern lake district, but the archipelago is still a world away.

In fact, ask any Chilean about Chiloé and they will likely respond, “it’s magical”. This wet, emerald land cradled by the Pacific holds a special place in the country’s collective imagination, history, and cuisine. It certainly has a distinct flavor from the rest of Chile, and Chilotes still refer to mainland Chile as the “continent”.

Chiloé’s isolation creates its pristine culture, its romanticism, paired with the terrain and a rainy maritime climate. Wood and wool are used everywhere. Ferries still harbor cars, buses, and people back and forth across smaller islands and inlets. There are the rustic towns with their picturesque palafitos (houses mounted on stilts along the water’s edge), iconic wooden churches (16 of which are Unesco World Heritage sites), and homes constructed with ornate tejuelas (shaped wooden shingles). And then, there’s the cuisine. Oh, the food! Delectable tiny oysters, curanto (meat, potato and seafood stew), shellfish, salmon ceviche, one of the tastiest sheep’s milk cheese in Chile, and many creations with native potatoes. A closer look at Chilote culture also reveals a mythology of witchcraft, ghost ships and forest gnomes.

Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_2 We had visited almost twenty years ago so it was high time to “rediscover” this corner of Chile. However, unlike other far-flung destinations like the Atacama Desert or Patagonia, Chiloé is certainly not an adrenaline-driven, nature-only destination. These magical islands seem to have been stopped in time, part of its allure. The islands’ natural pace also forces you to slow down. And clean air…what more can I say?

We landed on a typical Chilote, late winter day peppered with sun and rain showers. Rain, what a treat! We were so happy to see it, smell it, feel and hear it on the roof of the car and hotel. The air was heavily scented with eucalyptus, pine and that saline freshness belonging to the sea. I wished I could bottle it and take it home with me.

We based from Tierra Chiloé, the newest member of the Tierra Hotels in Chile, a petite lodge well-positioned on a bluff overlooking a quiet inlet. The hotel had floor to ceiling glass windows so we could savor the view from every angle. We lunched and decompressed in the living area and watched Mother Nature’s “show”. The sky would darken and the wind would howl. Then, it would rain like crazy for a few minutes. And, just like that, a few rays of sun would push through the clouds and a rainbow would appear. Like magic. Sometimes, we’d get just a peek of a rainbow slyly hiding across the fjord or tucked behind a hill. Another one we caught was a full glorious arch that landed near the hotel’s boat, Williche, bobbing in the waves below. In a sweet moment, seeing her first rainbow, our toddler, Micaela, reached her tiny had to the window pane trying to touch it. Rainbows are simply happiness. They are full of color, light…the magic of nature. What a divine way to return to the island.

Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_3 Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_4 Chiloe’s_Native-Potatoes_5For the next few days, we explored (more posts to come on Chiloé, there was quite a lot to see, do, and eat here!). Saturday in Castro, the largest town on the island, is market day. We had to go, of course! We made our way to the Mercado along the water’s edge and wandered the stalls hawking dried luche (seaweed), smoked meats and cholgas (type of tender mussel), papas topinabor (Jerusalem artichokes), glorious bunches of chard, and then, I saw them from afar…tiny brightly colored native potatoes. I could barely contain my excitement. The casera who sold them had them baby-sized with more than half a dozen varieties, something I’d never seen in Santiago. I mentally revised how much space we had left in the carry-on. I decided I could make room to take home a couple prized kilos of these jewels to remember Chiloé in my kitchen later.

With this inspiration from the south, upon return, I decided to create this potato salad. I love potato salads, particularly the French style that are vinaigrette-based rather than with mayonnaise, which tends to be a favorite in Chile but yields a heavier result. Here, other vegetables grown on the island are incorporated such as fava beans, peas, radishes, and Chilean hazelnuts (completely unlike European ones, earthy tasting and very crunchy). Quail’s eggs are also consumed widely as an appetizer so their addition make the salad more of a main-course or hearty side salad. This recipe works beautifully with grilled salmon (prolifically farmed in the sound off the island), or of course, with any barbecued meat (which Chileans love dearly).

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Chilote Native Potato Salad

660g / 1.5 pounds small (baby) native potatoes (substitute: fingerling potatoes)
1 cup double shelled fresh fava beans
1 cup sweet peas (fresh or frozen and defrosted)
1 medium red onion, cut paper-thin with the grain, separated
2 cloves garlic, minced
18 quail’s eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and cut in half
4 medium-sized radishes, scrubbed and cut into paper-thin half moons
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped Chilean hazelnuts (substitute: whole toasted pine nuts)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (substitute: chives if you dislike flavor of cilantro)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar (substitute: sherry vinegar)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Ground sea salt / fresh black pepper

Scrub the potatoes and dry. Place in a steamer and cook until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Let cool until they can be handled and then cut in half to form a variety of lengths and widths. Reserve.

If you using fresh fava beans, after removing from the large pod, blanch for 3-4 minutes in boiling, salted water and then refresh in ice-cold water. Peel and pop out the brilliant green fava bean. Reserve.

Place the quail’s eggs in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes and then shock in cold water. Peel immediately as the delicate shell is much easier to peel when warm than after. Cut lengthwise.

For the onion, Chileans cut en pluma, which means cutting with the grain (paper-thin), and then separating with your fingers. If the onion is quite strong, many Chilean cooks “soften” the raw onion by mixing it with a sprinkle or two of sugar, and letting it rest for 15 minutes. After they rinse it with water and squeeze out the excess before adding to the salad. This takes the bite out of raw onions. Decide for yourself if you think it’s necessary, or use a shallot, instead.

Make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard and vinegar and slowly incorporate the olive oil in a small stream to create a creamy emulsion.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, fava beans, peas, onions, radishes, herbs, and hazelnuts. Fold in the dressing until lightly coated. Serve immediately. Personally, I prefer the salad at room temperature when you can fully appreciate the flavors.

6-8 servings


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Where I have been hiding…traveling

by Liz Caskey on August 28, 2015

Paris_New-York_MediterraneanI have been laying low on the blog in the past few months. Work has been busy coupled with a business trip to Lima and preparation to escape winter in Santiago during July and August. We decided to go mostly to Europe and a side trip to the US. We went to soak up some sunshine, get fresh air (something that’s been hard to come by in smoggy Santiago this winter), and find inspiration on the Mediterranean and in the streets of Paris and New York. Sometimes, I still think my head got lost in Paris’ deliciousness and beauty, and forgot to board the plane home.

We’ll always have Paris though. Our baby girl celebrated her first birthday under the Eiffel Tower as her parents drank champagne. She slept for all the official photos, of course! I suppose she’s technically now a toddler. She took her first steps in Jardin du Luxembourg, her first word was “alo”, and she learned to chew by way of Parisian baguettes so she is now eating the same food we do (huge fan of stinky French cheese).

We landed last week in “winter” in Santiago. Winter is relative here. It feels like a cool summer in northern Europe. Maybe, just maybe, I will need a scarf and trench coat. The trees are beginning to blossom as spring approaches. I still want rain and there’s none in the forecast. That being said, I love “jumping” seasons. It’s the perfect cure for weather boredom. Not only do you get to use a different wardrobe, I trade in all my seasonal vegetables, too. My body starts craving different foods. Those hot days along the French Riviera in early July drinking chilled rose from Provence and sipping gazpacho seem quite far away. Even more so when I consider the five pounds of duck thighs I just ordered to make homemade confit de canard this weekend for my husband’s birthday.

As we ground again as a family, I am finding my footing and settling back into “home”. It doesn’t always happen immediately. I am not one of those people who can just arrive, unpack, and pick up from where I left off. Too much happened in between. I slowly warm up, sipping the local flavor surrounding me. It’s grounding for me to catch up with my caseros in the market for long overdue visits. Talking about our lives, families, and vegetables makes me happy. I make plans to see friends for wine, coffee, even a detox at the sauna. I am getting back into my gym routine. Even in my daily outings to run errands or hitting the playground with my daughter, after being away, my eyes catch subtle details and differences I seemed to have glossed over before. I guess I really needed a vacation.

But, isn’t that what travel is about? Sure, the journey is always an adventure (especially when traveling with a small child on multiple long haul flights), but the act of distancing ourselves temporarily allows us to reinsert ourselves back into daily life and reconnect with renewed eyes and energy. That distance often allows us to make major life decisions, too. I certainly cannot lie that part of me was, and is, very taken with France. Besides Paris and its inescapable charms, I keep wanting to hit “rewind” for that and the Cote d’Azur again–and again. France certainly has je ne sais quoi–for me.
Earlier today when I headed out to my favorite coffee spot in the barrio, Colmado, I smiled when I heard a group of Chilean university students giving each other a hard time. In their funny local slang, one guy finally exclaimed, “Ya po’ huevon!!”, the Chilean equivalent of “Enough dude!!”. Oh, Chile. I am, indeed, home again.

I promise I will be back to posting very, very soon. Thanks for standing by.

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