Fernanda Fuentes Cárdenas,
telling stories on a plate

By Isabel Ossa Guzmán

Ilustration: Camila y Pepe


Dear diary,


It’s been a long time since I’ve written because, once again, we moved house, and just today I found you amongst the moving boxes. So, I’m going to summarize what’s been happening. We are in Concepción now, which is a very pretty city. I was sad to say goodbye to San Felipe, but I was also excited about what our new home would bring. And about what we would eat. Because there is the sea here, so dad promised that he would have me try some of the delicious things that the fishermen pull from their nets. We didn’t have a house when we arrive in ‘Conce’, so we stayed in A HOTEL!!! Just like the movies. At night, they left chocolates on our pillows and we could eat all that we wanted for breakfast. Best of all was the bread kneaded by Don José, the hotel cook, who I watched work every day through the half-open kitchen door. It was so fun living there. I wish we could have stayed there forever, but dad already found a house and we moved a few days ago.

Yesterday was a great Saturday. It started off melancholic, continued surprisingly and ended supper happy. I woke up very early missing my grandmothers. We don’t see them as much now that we live in the south and I really miss them. The night before last I dreamt of my grandma Checha. She came to visit us and brought a huge pot of lemon chicken. So, I woke up with the taste of delicious chicken in my mouth and my heart ached. I also missed by grandma Marta and the smells of her kitchen. Mom realized and, as soon as we finished breakfast, she asked me to go with her to buy fruit and vegetables. And that’s how I got to know the market, the most incredible place in the world. There were lots of colorful stands, the most beautiful vegetables I have ever seen, and the vendors shouted loudly to offer their products. This place is full of life! “OK, ma’am, you want some garlic, the good garlic, the garlic for your husband so that he doesn’t fall asleep,” shouted a woman in a polka-dot apron, while a man was offering squash and ranting that they were “the best for legs, hair and blue eyes.” Mom walked slowly from stand to stand, smelling fruit, looking at the tomatoes and choosing carefully what to buy. I looked from one side to the other, impressed by everything that I saw, with the sounds and the smells, with so much love all around.


– Eating is so much more than feeding, Fer – my mom whispered to me, while she showed someone a well-hidden watermelon. – It’s a beautiful art form, carefully choosing the ingredients, cooking with love, beautifully setting the table, and sharing the meal with our loved ones. When we cook, we say a lot of things, we show love, we tell our story.


All of my sadness went away at the market and, when we got home, the surprises continued. Dad had gone to the port with my sister, and the messy kitchen danced a ton of different aromas.


– Come close, sweetheart. Today, you’re going to try the delicacies of our sea – he shouted with emotion, offering me an elongated shell with a slippery tongue in it.


– That’s gross, Dad! There’s no way I’m going to eat that disgusting thing!


– Darling, be respectful of the fruits that the ocean gives us. This so called “disgusting thing” is called a macha (razor clam). And it’s the most delicious thing you can imagine. It has an intense flavor and you’re going to love it. Trust me.


And so, I did. I closed my eyes tight, crinkled my nose, and swallowed saliva before opening my lips. A second later, an explosion of flavor in my mouth. First, strange; then, delicious.


– How yummy, Dad! I want to eat them all!


Here’s an ode to the macha that came to mind:


Macha from the seas

That came to my mouth

Don’t ever leave me 

Because you have made me crazy


Now, I’m going to bed happy, with a belly full of machas and a contented heart, my head full of ideas and my soul full of dreams. Or decrees, which are the dreams that come true. And today, I decree that I’m going to become the best cook in the world. I’m going to have a restaurant by the sea, and go to the market every morning, and come up with the most delicious recipes, and tell lots of stories through them.


But, dear diary, this is still a secret, so don’t tell anyone. Tomorrow, I’m going to wait until mom takes her nap to get to work on it.


Fernanda Fuentes Cárdenas is a professional chef and amateur poetess. She is the owner of Nub restaurant in Tenerife and the only Chilean woman to have received a Michelin star for her cuisine. In 2022, she will open her first restaurant in Santiago, Chile, where she hopes to continue recovering Chile’s culinary heritage and sharing the history of its roots through her creations.


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