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Wandering Chef: Sisha Ortúzar in Santiago, Chile

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Chef Sisha Ortúzar started his career in Santiago, where he grew up. After working in various kitchens, he moved to the United States to attend the Culinary Institute of America. He now runs the kitchen at Tom Colicchio’s modern American restaurant, Riverpark, in New York City, where he sneaks in flavors that remind him of home. Here are his highlights from a recent trip.

Ortúzar has grown fond of the spice merkén, used for centuries by southern Chile’s indigenous Mapuche Indians. “It’s made from smoked goat’s-horn chili mixed with coriander, cumin, and salt. You can find it in nearly every market in Santiago,” he says. “I’ve started using it at Riverpark as a rim for Bloody Marys and to season potato chips with a spicy, almost barbecue flavor.”

Many Peruvian immigrants have moved to Santiago in the last 20 years, which has meant a surge of Peruvian restaurants. At Alto Perú, a casual neighborhood spot, all the employees are Peruvian, which is always a good sign, Ortúzar notes. “I like to make a meal out of different ceviches, or order the sea bass causa, a traditional Peruvian casserole layered with cold mashed potatoes and crispy fried sea bass.” $$, Seminario 38, Providencia, 56/(0) 2-223-0173, altoperu.cl

An essential stop for fresh seafood, the restaurant is especially appealing during erizo (sea urchin) season, from October through December. “Traditionally, you spread erizo on toast and sprinkle onion, cilantro, and lemon on top,” Ortúzar says. Picoroco (boiled barnacles) is another favorite dish. “I make a broth from them that tastes like a crazy seafood energy drink.” $$$, Vitacura 4171, 56/(0) 2-206-5106

“Chile has always produced quality wines, but they are becoming higher-end,” says Ortúzar. He visited Antiyal in the Maipo Valley just outside the city, where the owners are turning a house into a bed-and-breakfast. “The winery is beyond organic and biodynamic. The winemaker, Alvaro Espinoza, makes fantastic syrah and carmenère blends, both of which I’ve added to the wine list at Riverpark.” $$, Alto Jahuel Buin, 56/(0) 2-821-4224, antiyal.com 

This appeared in the May/June 2012 issue. Illustration by Michael Hoeweler.

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