Classical music blares out. Nothing moves. On a central island, opposite a quad of hob rings, two place settings are illuminated by spotlights. A third beam picks out the chef whites of Patricio Cáceres Pérez, standing with his arms folded. The rest of the room is cloaked in inky darkness.
“This is a very strange workshop,” Patricio admits. And that’s precisely what it feels like — a workshop, a place of engagement, performance and discussion. Whatever it is, it’s no ordinary restaurant.
Situated in suburban Santiago, Motemei is a vehicle for Patrico and his wife, Jennifer Crew, to explore Chilean cuisine, testing out their reinvented national dishes on intimate groups of up to 12.
During my visit, proceedings begin with ceviche. No surprises here — we were in South America, after all. What was unexpected, though, was the main ingredient: conger eel, served up on a plate simply exploding with a colourful, flavourful mix of pumpkin marmalade, cactus fruit and chilli.
Having served the dish up himself, Patrico then perches on a stool besides us. “I want to see your reaction when you see the ingredients and flavours,” he explains. “So near, so close.” True to his word, he examines our faces, his eyes following our forks from dish to mouth. Then, once our plates are empty, he asks us to slurp up the remaining liquid. In truth, it’s more of an order than a request.
Next, we’re served up a hotdog — a staple of Chilean family barbecues. Naturally, it’s no ordinary dog. Within a small square of toasted bread sits a plump artisan sausage topped with a crunchy quinoa salsa and a dollop of ketchup — accompanied by a shot glass of beer. It’s a course of miniature classics.
Other standout dishes include a sweet potato nestled under a soft, crumbling pile of prieta (black pudding) and goat’s cheese, and the more traditional pairing of pork with haricot beans — a dish that sits firmly at the heart of Chilean cuisine.
And throughout, Patricio is there, watching, serving, talking — a raconteur, trying to tell Chile’s too-often-overlooked culinary story. “So, for Jennifer and me, it’s very interesting and very exciting that people sit at our table and that we can talk and we can do a typical Chilean culinary trip with seven stations,” he explains.
By the time the seventh station rolls around, I’m overwhelmed. The flavours are unforgettable and my reactions to them have been dissected in real time by the chef himself. It’s been intense, and utterly unlike any meal I’ve ever eaten. But then, this is no ordinary restaurant.