Meet the Innovative Chefs Shining a Light on Traditional Colombian food

Traditional Colombian food
Traditional Colombian food | © Chris Bell
Chris Bell

Colombian cuisine may not be as internationally recognised as that of some other South American countries, but people are starting to come around to Colombia’s remarkable range of ingredients and unique traditional recipes, and Bogotà, in particular, is a booming foodie destination. But who is behind this boom in Colombian cooking? Meet the innovative chefs who are shining a light on Colombian food.

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For years, Colombian cuisine remained one of South America’s less well-known regional cuisines, and most people who travelled to the country made do on a steady diet of meat, rice and plantain (and to be fair, this is still the case in many regions of the country); however, in recent years, as the country has increasingly been in the spotlight overseas, many Colombian chefs are starting to experiment more widely with their ingredients and recipes, mining the country’s distinct heritages and regions for inspiration, and opening restaurants to showcase their innovations and talent.

Restaurants like Ocio are reclaiming typical regional Colombian ingredients

One such chef is Leo Espinosa, who was recently named Best Chef in Latin America, and whose restaurant, Leo Cocina y Cava, is often considered Colombia’s best. Leo brings a truly innovative approach to cooking in Colombia, and she has travelled to all four corners of the country in search of traditional ingredients and recipes, in order to show off the best of her country to her well-off diners.

Her tasting menu is like a culinary journey around Colombia, and she has even started a foundation to help some of the impoverished communities in which she works. Her growing reputation has seen her profiled in many international newspapers, which has to be good news for Colombian cuisine.
Another Bogotà-based chef making waves with his passionate approach to traditional Colombian food is Rey Guerrero. His eponymous restaurant in the Colombian capital serves food from his native Pacific coast region, and his goal is to rescue and rehabilitate the image and traditional cuisine of one of Colombia’s most forgotten and overlooked regions. The majority of the dishes are seafood- or fish-based, but Guerrero’s anthropological approach to Pacific coast cooking means that the menu features some truly unique innovative dishes.

Another man with a unique approach to Colombian cuisine, who is also doing great things for the country in terms of the peace process, is Juan Manuel Barrientos. Barrientos’ restaurant, El Cielo, is another of Bogotà’s most renowned, and his tasting menu is something to behold. However, his true innovation is his foundation, which places demobilised guerrillas and former soldiers in the kitchen together in a bid to heal wounds from the past and build a positive future. His restaurant’s slogan? ‘At El Cielo we are cooking up peace in Colombia.’

Leo Espinosa

There are hundreds of talented and dedicated chefs breathing new life into Colombian cuisine and the culinary scene in the country – far too many to feature in one article – and their efforts to shine a new light on one of South America’s most overlooked cuisines deserve celebrating. So if you are travelling in Colombia, seek out one of these restaurants and enjoy the work of some of Colombia’s finest chefs.

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