I’m packing for a trip. I’m surrounded by the usual disaster scene: suitcases are scattered around my living room, my closets look like they’ve been ransacked, and items on my packing list are getting crossed off. It’s complicated to pack for a trip – and I’m just packing for two.
Now imagine packing for 1,000.
That’s the challenge facing Juan Manuel Barrientos and his team at El Cielo. They’re taking his famous restaurant – with locations in Medellin, Bogota and Miami – on the road for the months of September, October and November.
Taking the El Cielo Restaurant on the road
What’s involved in taking a luxury tasting menu on the road?
Good planning. And lots of it. After more than a year of planning, the team is ready to take this nearly 5,000 km trip. With 1800 plates. And 500 luxury Italian wine glasses. With a 13 member cooking team. And of course, all the implements that have helped Juan Manuel earn his place as one of the top chefs in Latin America.
Imagine that packing list.
Why all the work? The 10 year anniversary of his El Cielo restaurants. And since not everyone can get to one of his restaurants, he’s taking the experience to Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, and Cali. So if you look at a map of Colombia, you’ll see that they’re going way west, way east, and quite a ways north.
Juan Manuel keeps his menu focused on Colombia and its traditions, and that’s no exception for this tour. He’ll be changing the menu slightly in every area he visits to accommodate some regional ingredients, and the 13-course meal will include:
Ropa vieja croquettes
Gallina ravioli (in Bucaramanga this will be served with hormigaculona)
Yellow butterflies (don’t worry, you won’t be eating real butterflies)
Ceviche with Colombian fruits. The fish will be marinated in typical Colombian fruits rather than lime. These fruits will vary according to the area, so in Barranquilla count on the flavors of green papaya, guanabana and guyaba agria, in Bucaramanga feijoa and curuba, in Cartagena mangostino and in Cali lulo, borojo and chontaduro.
Coffee tree experience
If you’re going to be in any of the cities on the our route, here are the details you need to join in the tasting experience.
You’ve probably heard about espresso, but you may not have tried it. Espresso drinks are a central part of coffee scenes in many countries around the world. However, when faced with a long menu of drinks with names you’ve never heard of, you may get confused about how to order an espresso drink. Here we’ll help you figure out how to order an espresso drink in Bogota.
In Bogota, Sunday brunch has been trending for some time. Many of the restaurants at top hotels boast a brunch menu, whether buffet or a la carte. Coaxing Bogotanos to leave their homes on Sunday mornings for a hearty meal isn’t tough – it’s traditional to go with the whole family to get their fill of tamales and hot chocolate and buñuelos.
When you look around at what’s offered for Sunday brunch in Bogota, there’s a definite tendency towards American or Colombian traditions. Waffles or tamales, scrambled eggs or empanadas, it can be hard to break that mold (not that I mind the waffle mold).
I’m fascinated by brunch. Growing up in the United States, Sunday morning was brunch morning. We loved to go out as a family to see what delights were hiding at our favorite brunch buffet. Fresh waffles dripping with syrup, eggs made just the way we wanted them, and plentiful meats lured us back again and again.
However, in Colombia the word makes me cringe a bit. Especially the all-you-can-eat buffets, which are often pricey and with stale, tasteless offerings. After numerous disappointments, I’d sworn off most brunches.
The brunch at the W hotel, though, sparked my interest. I love the hip feel to the hotel and the offer seemed irresistible: an all you can eat buffet, complete with a waffle section.
Do you have a favorite street? One that you love to walk down, where you take time sit on a bench and look at the trees and admire the gardens and the ivy-covered houses? It can create a peaceful moment that takes you away from the big-city traffic.
I have a street like that. I can always find a good excuse to walk down it. When I’m nearby checking out new coffee shops or restaurants I’ll go out of my way to head down that street and get the feeling I’ve escaped to a small town outside Bogota.
So when a restaurant opens up on my favorite street, I pay attention.
Recently the World’s 50 Best Restaurants came out with some news that will affect Colombia’s top restaurants and chefs. And, if you live in Bogota or are planning a visit, this may very well affect you too.
It’s about their restaurant awards for Latin America.
However, before I get to the news, I want to talk about the awards themselves. Because you may be asking yourself why in the world you should care about restaurant awards.
Perhaps you’ve heard criticism of restaurant awards. After all, who is truly qualified to judge restaurants? Chefs, journalists, people in the restaurant industry – couldn’t they all be biased or have criteria that are completely skewed? Sure, they do know much more about the industry than the average person. But then again, the average person that would consider following their suggestions might not value the same dining experiences.
If that’s what you’re thinking, well…you’re right.
You could also ask yourself how they can judge the best offerings in a vast area, such as an entire country or a vast region. Have their judges eaten at all of those restaurants to be able to compare all those experiences?
And again, you’d be right: few judges can afford the luxury of trying all the restaurants in a large area or even one city. Unless, of course, you’re Jeffrey Merrihue, the man who’s literally eaten through the world’s best restaurants list. But he’s a different story, which we’ll someday get around to telling our version of.
Another point you could question is what are those awards based on? Glitz? Famous chefs? Fancy ingredients that few people can afford? A restaurant owner’s influence in the industry? You could be right about each of those points. At times, restaurants do get on those lists because of everything except the chef’s skill in the kitchen.
So why should you care about these awards?
Because in spite of any challenges and drawbacks to choosing the restaurants that make it onto the lists, awards are still the best way to recognize and congratulate those who are doing something extraordinary in a tough – and often unforgiving – industry.
Most food awards do give a nod to lesser-known chefs who are doing extraordinary things in the quiet obscurity of their kitchens and other delightfully creative spots (home stoves, backyard fire pits, or rural gardens).
Yes, after taking their turn in Peru and Mexico, the awards ceremony will land this September in another gem of a culinary city, Bogota.
For those of us who believe in the restaurant industry’s ability to change lives and the value of discovering Colombia’s fascinating culinary traditions, we truly do applaud this move.
This year the world will turn its eyes to Bogota and ask, “Why Colombia?” And over the next 7 months leading up to the awards ceremony, the chefs, restaurant owners, culinary schools, and yes, food writers here in Bogota will stand up and shout out the clear answer.
So keep your ears open this year to discover the best in Colombian ingredients, innovative techniques, renewed traditions, and perhaps the most passionate chefs anywhere. Because whatever Colombians do, they bring to it a passion and energy that takes the ordinary and makes it shine.
A word of warning – remember that many of the true gems in this city and around the country have never been on an awards list, and probably never will be. Over the coming months we’ll be focusing on those little-known but incredibly valuable chefs that the world has largely forgotten to talk about. Please join us – subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date (you’ll find the form at the bottom of this page).
Perhaps you’re not interested in fancy restaurants with staggering price tags. That’s right up our alley, too – after all, the best way to discover a city’s culinary roots is to get out on the street. Read about some of our favorite places for food lovers in Bogota.
Colombia’s top chef, Leonor Espinosa, brings international attention to lesser known ingredients like corozo, yacón, and fried ants. Her artistic creations have put her in the limelight. In 2016, her restaurant LEO, in the heart of Bogota’s downtown financial district, was at number 16 on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
That achievement positions her as the best chef in Colombia. Although some chefs have reached that fame by expanding beyond Colombia’s borders for inspiration, Leonor sticks not just to Colombian food, but to food from little-known regions of the country.
Through her Leo Espinosa Foundation, she works with small rural communities all over Colombia. She brings rare ingredients and methods to her restaurant and combines a love of discovery with a sense of social well-being.
Even the coffee at LEO will make you feel good: it comes from a rural Afro-Colombian community that has been afflicted by unrest and violence. For a more casual look into Colombian cuisine, try her Misia restaurants.
Calle 27B # 6 – 75, Bogota
Criterion has been on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list ever since the awards began. Led by Colombia’s beloved culinary brothers, Jorge and Mark Rausch, in 2015 the restaurant moved up the list to come in at #18 and in 2016 they placed at #29.
Criterion’s location in Zona G puts this duo in one of the hottest restaurant areas with some of the top dining establishments. The menu is based on French cuisine with Latin touches. Hidden among foie gras, gigot d’agneau and bouillabaisse on their menu, they include typical Colombian dishes like the famous posta negra cartagenera, a braised short rib with tamarind and panela (raw sugar). Their desserts appropriately focus on Colombia’s outstanding tropical fruits, with guanabana sorbet, coconut mousse with arequipe cream, or cuajada (fresh cheese) with melao and guava sauce.
Calle 69 A # 5 – 75, Bogota
One of the first Colombian chefs to gain celebrity status, Harry Sasson headed up fine dining back in the mid-1990s in Bogota.
His restaurant, set in a gorgeous National Heritage mansion with a Tudor look, is just a stone’s throw from one of the most impressive gastronomic scenes in the city. From the elegant upstairs bar and chef’s table to the bright and modern atrium outside, Harry knows how to set the scene for an outstanding meal. This is where heads of state, national and international artists, and famous musicians go for memorable meals.
The menu isn’t just about Colombian food. You’ll find Asian and international touches mixed in with Colombian ingredients. Dishes done on a Japanese robata grill sit on the menu next to salads with hearts of palm from Putumayo, the south of Colombia. Harry came in at #40 on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016.
What Juan Manuel wants to transmit to those who eat at his version of heaven is Stop. Live the moment. Look at what you have in front of you, and look again because maybe you didn’t see it right the first time. Feel it. Smell it. Turn it over and over and understand it. Each minute of life is precious and we won’t get it back.
After visiting the restaurant you’ll understand why Barrientos is considered among the top chefs in Colombia. El Cielo came in at #30 on the Latin America’s Best Restaurants List in 2015.
Calle 70 4-47, Bogota
Andrés Carne de Res
Volumes could be written about the craziness at Andrés Carne de Res. It’s on most must-do-while-visiting-Bogota lists. And when you walk through the door, you’ll realize why. Musicians wander from table to table to play typical Latin ballads, waiters are dressed in colorful and bizarre outfits, and random objects such as steel cows and neon hearts dangle from the ceiling.
The menu is almost 70 pages long, presumably in an attempt to list the majority of Colombian dishes. As the name suggest, this place shines when it comes to meat preparations like lomo al trapo. Most of the dishes are overpriced for typical Colombian food, but what you’re really paying for is the party (which is priceless).
The original restaurant is in Chía, but if you don’t want to battle traffic to get out of the city, try the five-level monstrosity in Bogota for a crazy, fun night out. Andrés Carne de Res squeaked in at #49 on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016.
Calle 3 N° 11A – 56, Chia
Calle 82 #12-21, Zona Rosa, Bogota
Where do you love to to eat in Colombia? Do you have your favorite Colombian chef? Please tell us about them! Let’s start our own 50 Best Restaurants in Colombia list.
Quick Reviews are short peeks at restaurants in Colombia.
Andrés Carne de Res
Andrés Carne de Res is one of those restaurants in Colombia that you can’t miss while visiting Bogota. As soon as you enter the restaurant you’ll be met the craziness that has become its trademark. Musicians wander from table to table to play typical Latin ballads, waiters are dressed in colorful outfits, and random objects such as steel cows and neon hearts dangle from the ceiling.
La Candelaria is one of Bogota’s most fascinating neighborhoods, both bohemian and historic. It’s uncomfortably crowded down by the main plaza but takes on an eerie calm up by Chorro de Quevedo, the fountain and plaza where they say Bogota got its start.
I can feel the history as I walk on the quiet streets past buildings whose foundations were laid in the early 1600s. The cobblestone streets are crowded with red tile roofed houses painted in vibrant colonial colors. Occasional splashes of street art invoke the past and present, modern and historic, European and indigenous.