As part of the latest Chilean Cuisine Day, which is celebrated every April 15, we talked to Eugenio Melo, president of Les Toques Blanches, the Chilean Chefs’ Association. He says chicken, turkey, and pork are key components of the country’s culture and cuisine. Despite their origin in other countries, they are part of what Chilean mixed heritage cuisine means today.
Chilean cuisine is the product of an ongoing mix. The mix of diverse cultures, the reality and adaptations of each region -integrating local traditional products-, and the globalization of Chilean society over the last three decades.
Pork, chicken, and turkey play a key role in this fusion and ongoing evolution. According to Eugenio Melo, president of the Chilean Chefs Association Les Toques Blanches, the market has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, expanding its offer with a variety of products, cuts, and culinary solutions of high nutritional value.
– What do you think about Chilean chicken, turkey, and pork and their contribution to the country’s cuisine?
There is no question that chicken, turkey, and pork have been key components of our culture and cuisine for many years now. Although these products originated abroad, they were introduced to our American continent and are part of what our mixed heritage cuisine means today, a perfect blend of all the cultural influences we have received.
The Spanish arrived many centuries ago, together with their food products. The mixture of their culture and products with those that already existed in our continent, those belonging to indigenous peoples, produced what we know today as Chilean cuisine. Later, the arrival of other influences created the rich mixture we have in our continent and our country.
Meat, without a doubt, is essential in most dishes. Today, no one would question whether a delicious turkey stew with chuchoca (coarse cornmeal) is Chilean or not. No one would doubt that a delicious arrollado (pork roll) is part of our cuisine.
Therefore, chili-marinated ribs with a side of spicy mashed potatoes are dishes deeply ingrained in our culture that have become, like these proteins, a key component of the diet of the American continent and of course, of Chile.
We must not forget that our cuisine is evidently nutritious and the variety of meats available these days contributes to the high protein value of our diet.
I would also like to mention how the meat market has become increasingly sophisticated and varied in recent years. Us chefs have access to an array of products, culinary solutions, and pre-cooked products that facilitate our work in the kitchen and, of course, they are also available for households at retail stores.
Pork, for example, used to come in three or four cuts, but today it’s more sophisticated, offering a wide range of cuts with different uses and performance.
– Could you name your favorite cuts and how to get the most out of them in the kitchen?
It is very important to understand that the cuts correspond to different muscles or body parts of the animal, and you need to know how to make the most of the benefits or richness each one has. Pigs, for example, have some lean parts, which are good for certain dishes. Cuts such as center loin, tenderloin or chops indeed have a low fat content. Basically, they have less connective tissue and thus need shorter cooking times. They are already tender cuts.
However, other cuts like leg, shoulder, or ribs need longer cooking times to produce a good result. This is why knowing which muscle meat comes from, or the cut we are using, helps us cook it accordingly.
But I would also like to mention less noble cuts, also called tough cuts. On the one hand, their lower cost makes them more affordable, and well prepared, that is, when cooked slowly, with time and patience can produce great results. Then you can make a tasty dish, such as a delicious stew of meat and peas or meat and potatoes (carbonada) with an affordable cut. This is not just beneficial for the budget of a professional kitchen, but for any household.
We should also note that there are some products that are wrongly called by-products and are not that popular, such as offal or chicken liver. I say “wrongly” because these products are of extraordinary quality. Most of them are indeed high in nutritional value and can become an affordable yet high-quality culinary product. If they are well prepared and properly used in the kitchen, they become great allies, not only because of their price, but also for their nutritional value.
– What is the role of these meats in the Chilean culinary culture and how are they used in traditional dishes?
Chicken, turkey, pork, and of course beef, are meats that are already ingrained in endless recipes from our cuisine. Chilean cuisine is a rich mixture of breeds found throughout our country. This diversity is a tremendous asset. And just like these meats are introduced to our diet and cuisine in different ways throughout our country, when we talk about Chilean cuisine we are not just talking about restaurants that serve this type of cuisine, but mainly about what is eaten at home. It is said that Chile has as many houses as it has stews.
Indeed, stews make use of locally available products and that is how pork, for example, is successfully introduced in some regions while turkey in others. Turkey stew with chuchoca (coarse cornmeal) or with walnut sauce is an example of that. Similarly, chicken and hen are introduced in many versions of stews, which change their ingredients based on what is locally available.
Pork is a great example of the variety of Chilean cuisine, used for charcuterie, pork rolls, head cheese, causeo(cold snack), and spicy or blood sausages. Meat products have been increasingly present in Chilean cuisine for many years, and this is why there is no doubt about the leading role they play. The truth is that these products are deeply ingrained in every home, diet, and Chilean traditional recipe.
I would dare to say that a significant portion of Chinese traditional dishes include the proteins we have been talking about as key ingredients.
– As president of Les Toques Blanches, what projects have you been involved in lately to promote Chilean cuisine and its ingredients, such as white meats?
The role of our association Les Toques Blanches is to constantly bring our cuisine into the collective unconscious of both Chilean and international consumers. We want to shine a light on our dishes, our traditions; and use traditional food to raise awareness of our intangible heritage whenever we can. And part of that work is to promote all these products.
Our most emblematic project is the Les Toques Blanches scholarships that every year help almost 30 students access higher education. These students come from high-school or tertiary vocational education, and the goal of the scholarship is to cover most of their needs to help them become successful professionals and not waste young talents that are unable to fulfill their potential because of socioeconomic factors.
We are also involved in a very nice project called “Chile, te quiero comer” (Chile, I could eat you up!”), that brings together associations and higher education institutions to combine our energy and work together to shine a light on our cuisine, celebrate Chilean Cuisine Day, etc.
Of course, our role is also to represent our cuisine everywhere. We are members of various work groups in this area. We also try to represent our cuisine at various international food festivals and, of course, we also have goals related to the training and growth of the chefs that make up Les Toques Blanches.