A family meal: speaking to Awasi Atacama Chef Juan Pablo
01/06/2015 AWASI PATAGONIA
Awasi Atacama Head Chef, Juan Pablo, with his wife, Maureen
Head Chef at Awasi Atacama, Juan Pablo Mardones, started working at Awasi seven years ago. He is now married to his sous-chef, Maureen, and they have two children. We speak to him about his life in the world’s driest desert and what inspires him in his cooking.
What first brought you to the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile?
Leaving Santiago was always something I had in mind (Juan Pablo grew up in the Chilean capital), I wanted to be more in contact with nature, and living a life in the countryside was always something I had wanted to do. Awasi Atacama gave me the opportunity to do so and I didn’t think twice!
What is it like living here?
For Maureen and me as a couple, and as parents, it is a wonderful place to live. San Pedro is a magical place; it is somewhere that receives you in an enormously welcoming way.
How do you balance work and family life?
I try to give my best in all aspects of my life, in terms of family life, living here in San Pedro allows me much more quality time with Maureen, Ignacio y Josefina than I would have if we lived in a large city. The main thing for me is to try to bring to everything joy and gratitude. The kitchen is beautiful: it gives you so much and asks so much of you, so the key is to find a balance.
Where does your inspiration for cooking come from?
Honestly I can say that my inspiration comes from all around me, from travels, conversations, observing other chefs… but the most important of all is joy and enthusiasm!
For us, food goes hand-in-hand with the environment. Our aim is to take a little bit of the desert and present it on our guests’ plates.
Is it hard to find ingredients in such an arid environment?
It’s surprising when you look around and see no plantations, yet things grow here! We gather these green sprigs from the sand and transform them into beautiful dishes and experiences.
Here in the Awasi kitchen we have the chance to rescue local products that are very seldom used in Chilean cooking. This has helped us to bring out the best regional flavours and create a culinary experience for our guests that comes straight from the desert.
What are the highlights of your time working at Awasi Atacama?
There have been many, from travels to Argentina - the first time to learn, and the next to show others a little of what we create at Awasi. But the truth is the best part for me is looking back and seeing how much our team here has grown as chefs.
How do you try and surprise guests?
The most important thing is that the food is tasty. I honestly believe that our cooking is honest and this is what surprises the guests who choose Awasi. Also we try to make a reality of each and every little desire of our guests.
Have you had any experiences with guests that you will never forget?
I have had many, but my favourite are the friendships that form at Awasi. In fact, we will visit the Weiner family in San Francisco, California, this June. We met when they were at Awasi Atacama and now we will continue our shared love for food visiting great restaurants in their hometown.