Finding Food—and Frank Lloyd Wright—in the Chilean Desert
Tierra Atacama is a resort in Chile's northern desert that was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, my hometown of Oak Park’s most influential architect. Tierra Atacama’s most obvious Wrightean influences are in the low design of the earth-colored buildings, the concealment of front doors, the landscaping with prairie grasses, and the integration of structures into the natural landscape of the desert. As Wright drew inspiration from the prairie, the kitchen at Tierra Atacama draws ingredients from the desert. I’m fascinated by the foods people find in the desert. Some parts of the Atacama desert have not seen rain in 400 years, and the landscape is rocky, dusty, and seemingly inhospitable to life. Still, stuff grows in even the most hostile environments, and people eat it…mostly, I’m guessing, because they have to, though that doesn’t mean the food isn’t a little tasty. Driving through the desert toward the hotel, we stopped the car for pictures and I was attracted to a kind of gnarly plant, looking a little like old oregano, growing here and there along the road. I was told it was Rica Rica, a wild bush that apparently grows only in this region. With what must be a taproot going down dozens of feet, the Rica Rica, which translates as “tasty tasty,” is used in the kitchen to infuse pisco, the regional brandy used in the famous Pisco Sour. The Rica Rica has a taste somewhere between sage and basil. Not bad for a food growing in some of the most challenging land in the world.