Barcal, El Chato, Celele: the new Colombian cuisine

The story of three young restaurants and chefs, united by the desire to see the rebirth of the gastronomic scene, and by their culinary pride

31-01-2020
Miguel Warren, 25, from Medellín. He’s one of t

Miguel Warren, 25, from Medellín. He’s one of the emblems of the Colombian gastronomic nouvelle vague 

A country that wants to rediscover its culinary roots and tradition, that wants to recreate its geography of the palate full of rich and special local products, that wants to re-establish the pride for its typical flavours: this is the image of Colombia that resulted from the first edition of Bogotá Madrid Fusion, on which we reported, through the words of two speakers, two pillars of Colombian cuisine: Harry Sasson and Leonor Espinosa.

Yet one of the reasons that made this first edition of the Colombian spin-off of the great Spanish culinary congress particularly interesting, was the presence in the programme of some emerging chefs who, with their energy and their dynamic and lucid approach, are contributing in rewriting the culinary history of the country. Highlighting common traces, as well as differences, in the philosophy they each apply to cooking.

In this respect, we surely must mention the habit of these young chefs of returning to Colombia after acquiring significant experience abroad, and use this professional training in some of the best schools (such as the Basque Culinary Centre) or in some of the most prominent kitchens of Europe or North America, to apply the acquired techniques to local products and recipes. This is surely a very important and interesting evolution, which is allowing even the Colombian public to find new impulse to go out and eat Colombian.

Warren awarded during Madrid Fusion Bogotá

Warren awarded during Madrid Fusion Bogotá

This is something we have heard from all the protagonists of the new Colombian culinary scene: for years, those who dined out, chose to eat Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Peruvian… but not Colombian. The change of direction is arriving, but of course it’s a long-term change. And the efforts that the government is making, including the support given to bring Madrid Fusion to Bogotá, are coherent with this goal.

During the days of the congress, 25-year-old Miguel Warren received from a panel created by Madrid Fusion Bogotá the Best Emerging Chef in Colombia award: he surely is an enfant prodige, in that at only 20, when returning to his hometown Medellín, he decided to open his restaurant, Barcal, now a point of reference in the new Colombian fine dining.

Amazonian ajo blanco 

Amazonian ajo blanco 

«I started cooking as a kid – he told us – and thought it would be just a hobby. But then I gradually realised that it could become my life instead. So, I left for Spain, I studied at the Basque Culinary Centre, and then returned to Medellín. I must confess that when I opened the restaurant five years I still wasn’t too sure that I wanted to use only Colombian products: this idea grew naturally, when I started researching, and realised that we had a richness of products still unknown». Today, one of his signature dishes is an Amazonian interpretation of the Iberian Ajo blanco.

Alvaro Clavijo

Alvaro Clavijo

Alvaro Clavijo is a little more mature, some ten years older than his colleague, and more established, given that with his restaurant El Chato he was the highest new entry in the 2018 50 Best Latin America, at number 21. He was raised in a family that had no interest in cooking: when as a kid he started wondering about becoming a cook, his parents’ reaction was negative, a consequence of the fact there was no real national culinary scene at the time.

But Clavijo believed in it, nonetheless, and went to France to study. He ended up working as a kitchen hand in a restaurant to earn some money, and fell in love "with that hectic and noisy dimension". That was his future, of this he was convinced. He studied in Barcelona, got to work with world-renowned establishments such as Noma, the Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Per Se. This experience in New York, the last one before returning to Bogotá, he considered as the most important for his decision to open his own restaurant, especially in terms of management.

Tamal of coca leaves 

Tamal of coca leaves 

As for the culinary ideas, they are linked with the rediscovery of a truly Colombian cuisine, in the rebirth of a gastronomic pride that goes hand in hand with the valorisation of a region that is extremely rich in raw materials.

The two chefs from Celele

The two chefs from Celele

Two more chefs deserve lots of attention. In the beautiful Cartagena (hence on the Caribbean coast of Colombia), they opened a restaurant called Celele - Proyecto Caribe Lab, which this year received the One to watch award from the 50 Best Latin AmericaJaime Rodriguez and Sebastian Pinzon, who also trained extensively abroad.

Their project was born first as a laboratory for research and study: the starting point was the desire to let emerge the many influences that met and mixed on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The Spanish and European, and of course the African. But also the Syrian, Lebanese, Indian ones. Speaking with local people, with women who had been cooking for large families for a lifetime, they collected traditions, stories, ingredients. And then they used them to create a playful and refined, extremely colourful offer for their restaurant. Which little over a year after it opened already promises great things for the future.

Aubergines roasted and preserved in vinegar, mousse of baked plantain, crispy orejero leaves, flowers and horseradish vinegar 

Aubergines roasted and preserved in vinegar, mousse of baked plantain, crispy orejero leaves, flowers and horseradish vinegar 

Indeed, Colombia deserves a great development in this respect: for far too many years a country so rich in biodiversity and culture was penalised by oppressive tensions that made a large part of the country impossible to live, or to visit. The rebirth, however, has started some time ago, and Colombian cuisine now seems one of the realities on which to bet for the future, and for future travels.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


Sections

Dal Mondo

Reviews, recommendations and trends from the four corners of the planet, signed by all the authors of Identità Golose