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Felipe Bulnes has been the ambassador of Chile for just four months now. And he loves traditional Chilean foods, like fish (“I’m very addicted to seafoods.”), extra-virgin olive oil (“I am obsessed with extra-virgin olive oil.”) and lamb (“Rack of lambs are very good as well. We have them from Patagonia.").
And he adores traditional Chilean dishes, like empanadas (stuffed pastries), umitas (a kind of Chilean tamale) and pastel de choclo, a classic Chilean sweet corn pie.
“It’s made out of corn and chicken and some egg and some onion,” he says. “I am not the one who can give all the details of the recipe, but trust me; it’s very good!
The Chilean chef
The person who not only can “give all the details of the recipe,” but who can make it, too is Maria Rosario Gomez - “Rosario” for short. She’s the chef at the ambassador’s residence. The born-and-bred Chilean is still learning English, since she’s only been in the U.S. a few months. But she’s been cooking as a chef for about 40 years.
Inside the residence’s spacious white kitchen, Rosario demonstrates how to make the pastel de choclo. As the ambassador says, you first fill the pie with chicken, hard-boiled egg and onion, as well as raisins and olives. The final filling is pino, a mixture of meat and onion. You’ll find pino in other Chilean dishes too, like empanadas, which, by the way, Rosario plans to make 500 of, come Chile’s Independence Day Celebration on Sept. 18.
Once you have all the fillings in a ramekin or earthenware bowl, you cover them with creamy puree of corn and basil. Rosario says she puts some salt in the mixture since U.S. corn is sweeter than Chile’s. But in Chile, she says, she uses sugar in place of salt.
Then you pop the pastel in the oven, bake it until it’s golden brown and once it cools, it’s ready to be eaten.
We were able to sample some at the ambassador’s residence, and we washed it down with some Chilean red wine, another Chilean edible that ambassador Felipe Bulnes says sets his country apart.
“I think there’s no good food if you don’t have a Chilean wine on your side,” he says with a smile. “And trust me, I have tried all kind of wines and so I know from my heart that I am giving you wonderful advice!”
The ambassador enjoys sharing his beloved Chilean cuisine with others in D.C., every time the embassy holds an event, like the recent reception for Robert Zoellick, former head of the World Bank.
“We are always trying to see Chile as not only a country that is determined to be developed by the end of this decade, but also we have a wonderful cuisine and it’s gaining space as time goes by,” says Ambassador Bulnes. “It’s another window for people to get a sense of what Chile means."
And good food, he says, is a good way to get to know any country — from its heart, to its soul, to, yes, its stomach.
[Music: "Amigos Vecinos" by Gepe from Audiovision]
Photos: Chilean EmbassyRecipe: Pastel de Choclo