Mario Castrellón is a pioneer of the ‘rainforest to table’ movement that has been spreading across Latin America. His mission is to explore his country’s biodiversity, making sure that indigenous people find sustainable channels to sell the produce of their land. Be prepared to discover some of the most unusual rainforest plants at his restaurant Maito – the first Panamanian restaurant to be shortlisted amongst the 50 best restaurants of Latin America.
Carlos ‘Chombolín’ Alba
Carlos Alba, also known as Chambolín, is a very young, insatiably curious chef known for being the soul behind Intimo, the famous restaurant located in the neighbourhood of San Francisco. Mentored by Mario Castrellón, Chambolín has developed his own unique style and works by rearranging traditional Panamanian flavours to create new dishes. Growing part of his ingredients in the backyard of the restaurant, he works to provide cuisine that’s constantly evolving. Dishes from his kitchen range from black beans with curd and oysters in coconut water sorbet, through to smoked pork umami.
José Carles is one of Panama’s hottest chefs. His mission? Telling the story of Panama’s cuisine in his restaurant Donde José. Through a series of small courses that only use local ingredients, his goal is that of expressing a Panamanian food identity to both locals and visitors. Located in Casco Viejo and with only 16 seats, the restaurant ranks as one of the best in town, so make sure you book well in advance.
Barcelona-born chef Pedro Masoliver has lived in Panama for over two decades. Besides being a successful chef, he is also a much-loved personality in his adoptive country. Known by many as a member of the jury of TV show Topchef, he is first of all the co-founder and chef of Café Balear. His restaurant, inspired by the gastronomic history of the island of Menorca, opened in Panama in 1992 and stands out for its Mediterranean flavours and European style.
Cuquita Arias is a worldly woman who was raised in New York and Paris before returning to her homeland of Panama. She is the only Latin American woman to have ever been shortlisted amongst the 100 best chefs in the world by the magazine Saveur. Her dishes taste like sea, mountain and tropical fruits, and she describes her cuisine as flirtatious and provocative. You can try it at her restaurant Cuquita Cookita, or order from her catering company.
Charlie Collins is considered an institution in Panama. Trained at the Hotel Panamonte in the mountain town of Boquete, he developed the concept of ‘from the garden to the table’. After studying and working in the US, where he sharpened his skills, he came back to Panama to focus on typical cuisine. His catering company brings some of the best Panamanian food to private events, while he continues operating as executive chef at the Hotel Panamonte.
After winning the Panama Gastronomica competition, the young Hernán Correa opened his own restaurant, Riesen, and later went on to win another TV competition, first season of Panama’s Top Chef . Using almost only local ingredients, Correa aims to give a modern touch to traditional Panamanian cuisine. His dishes are creative experiments that bring together classic flavours with unusual textures. Definitely a must-try.