Gustavo Sáez has an unconventional approach to pastry. While traditional French techniques form the basis of his creations, it’s the Chilean touch that has shaped his unique style. Adding local ingredients and preparations, he carefully weaves Chilean culture into classic desserts, transforming them into edible art.
A quiet introvert, Sáez’s vision and attention to detail have been fundamental to the success of 99, the restaurant in Santiago set up by chef-owner Kurt Schmidt. His imaginative desserts combine with Schmidt’s skillful cooking at a restaurant that now tops all the trending lists in Chile and is this year’s joint Highest Climber.
Born in Puerto Montt, a small city in the south of Chile, Sáez moved to the coastal city of Viña del Mar to go to culinary school, starting a career that would lead him through some of the best kitchens in the world. From the local Boragó, No.4 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, to El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, No.2 in The World’s 50 Best, and D.O.M. and Maní in São Paulo, Brazil, he had the perfect schooling for his new challenge.
Opened in 2014, 99 has brought something very new to Santiago, refreshing the gastronomic scene with its casual vibe but sophisticated cuisine. Not only have the dishes, style, colours, music and distinctive flavours characterised it as a unique restaurant, but the desserts have also become a key attraction in themselves, with people heading to 99 specifically to try the sweet offerings – something almost unheard of in Chile.
Sáez has broken some of the rules by adding new flavours to classic preparations. The identity of each of his distinct dishes comes from the use of complex techniques and resources such as blown caramel, brittles, sorbets, entremets and mini brioches. Examples of his work include blown caramel with kiwi vinegar sorbet and his most famous creation: the pan con palta (brioche with avocado ice cream).
Lately, he has also embarked on a new challenge: to take Chile to the World Pastry Cup in Lyon. The team participated in Latin American qualifiers in Mexico’s Copa Maya in 2016 and are now preparing to compete in the 2017 finals in France against 21 other countries, with Gustavo as the team captain. If his success at 99 – and his new title as Latin America’s Best Pastry Chef – are anything to go by, he should make a seismic impact.
Images: Pablo Bacarat