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If hearing that a Chilean Gastronomic Week will begin in Washington next Monday doesn’t evoke any particular tastes, smells, or images for you, you are not alone.
“Nothing comes to mind at the expression ‘Chilean cuisine,'” says James Farrer, a sociologist at Tokyo‘s Sophia University and expert in culinary soft power who has written about how governments use food to project their authority and influence public opinion overseas.
The week of events, organized by the embassy’s ProChile trade division, is centered around a five-night Café Atlántico residency by Santiago chef Matías Palomo. The $75 prix-fixe dinner menu will include mussels, octopus and abalone ceviche and a Chilean king-crab pudding served with artichoke puree and green-olive tapenade.
The embassy’s goal is not to encourage local restaurateurs to open nuevo-Chilean small-plates bars or chefs to start tenderizing their abalone. Instead their goal is to make Chile’s role as one of the hemisphere’s leading producers of high-quality, low-cost ingredients more recognizable in the kitchen.
“We want to go to the final consumer,” says Chilean trade attaché Alejandro Buvinic. “We can show you how to cook Chilean products.”
Currently, Chile is known in the United States for its wines, salmon, and a wide range of produce including grapes, bananas, and peaches. Buvinic says he hopes the week’s events, which include cooking classes, will help draw the attention of home cooks and professional chefs to other ingredients including its olive and avocado oils and the spice blend merquen, produced by the indigenous Mapuche people.
Chile is one of the world’s economies most dependent on international commerce, and is famously promiscuous when it comes to signing foreign trade agreements. ProChile sponsors the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington‘s annual awards gala, and expects to have a visible presence when the Summer Fancy Food Show comes to the District next summer.
“The question I have is whether Chile can take advantage of this positive image to develop markets for other products and services — that is to generate a more complex and fuller culinary reputation abroad,” explains Farrer. “The biggest weakness Chile has in projecting its ‘culinary soft power’ is the lack of an identifiable cuisine in the eyes of people living far from the region.”