The South American braai

International braais

Chile's champion braai master

While Jan Braai continues to career round Europe setting fire to public spaces and spreading the gospel of Chisa Nyama, I’m back in South Africa, armed with photographs from a recent trip to South America, the land of football, beautiful women, and the largest steaks on earth. Not even the most carniverous corners of the Free State produce steaks like these – La Cabrera, one of the finest steak houses in Buenos Aires, offers a ‘baby steak’ at 400 grams, a ‘regular’ at 800 grams, and onwards and upwards from there…
Unsurprisingly, then, it’s a part of the world where the braai feels quite at home, and while they do curse that most noble of culinary arts with the heretical term ‘barbecue’ (verbal kryptonite to Jan Braai), they are a handy lot around the fire. The man in the picture in particular.
He’s not from Argentina, however; instead, Felipe Ignacio Fernandez Gonzalez resides in Santiago, the sprawling capital of Chile that lies beneath the Andes. But the Chileans are just as proud of their meat as their Argentinean neighbours, and like South Africans, they take cooking it extremely seriously. Translation: they make an awful lot of food.

I had a braai with Felipe and his South African wife Liz (whose influence I’d like to think has made Felipe a more competent man around the fire), and it appeared to be a simple affair: several bottles of Chile’s celebrated merlot, and the local answer to boerewors rolls. Chorizo are thick, juicy sausages served on lightly toasted rolls with a hint of local salsa, a spicy concoction that finishes off a meal perfectly. Except that Felipe’s braai was only getting started.

Small Chilean steaks...

For once the chorizo rolls were done, Felipe casually tossed several chickens onto the fire, before producing his piece de resistance: eight massive slabs of steak, each well over a kilogram, and glistening with streaks of marbled fat and deep red allure. Tossed expertly on a grill that was raised and lowered by Felipe to monitor heat, they were then sliced up into more manageable pieces, to present as good an advert for South American cooking as you’ll get.
Robust flavour, soft texture, and the perfect hint of smoke – South Africa might be the spiritual home of the braai, but Santiago is an enthusiastic home to art, with Felipe Gonzalez a master exponent.