While the Atacama Desert seems an unlikely to be a source of biodiversity and inspiring new recipes, Awasi Atacama’s chef Juan Pablo Mardones has found it to be exactly that. Since the hotel opened, he has invested considerable time in studying and searching out local ingredients.
Some, like quinoa and papa morada—a gourmet variety of blue-violet potato—are widely known. But many are native to the region and only grow wild; these include edible algarrobo pods from the carob tree, rosa de año—a flower that blossoms in the desert after the annual rainy season, and one of the chef’s staples: the sweet fruit of the Chilean chañar tree.
The chañar is a small, thorny tree that grows exclusively in very dry areas, pervading local culture and folklore as a result of its medicinal properties. The chef, however, uses its principally to delight his guests’ taste buds, deriving an intense syrup, with woody tones, from the tree. This serves as a versatile aromatic base, known as “Arrope de chañar”, which features strongly in Awasi Atacama’s sweet dishes.