My South American edible flower adventure started at a gastronomy workshop headed by the president of Madrid Fusion, José Capel, in Bogota, Colombia. A group of food writers, magazine editors, bloggers, chefs and restaurant owners gathered at a Best Western in a posh area of town to listen to a consideration of what’s involved in being a food critic.
While talking with Diana Garcia, voted best Colombian chef this year in the La Barra awards, she introduced me to Alejandro Cuellar, another creative and innovative Colombian chef. As we conversed, he mentioned his passion for edible flowers and his plans to open a restaurant in the mountains surrounding Bogota. A description of his family home and farm, where he has an edible flower garden, turned into an invitation extended to me and another writer to tour the farm and taste for ourselves.
Who could pass that up? Invitation accepted.
The adventure began in Zona G with Alejandro, a few chefs, and another writer. Then we were off, waking through the morning drizzle of Bogota’s rainy season. On the busy 7th Avenue in the financial district we caught a bus. The sign said it would go to La Calera, up in the mountains.
On the way I listened to the chefs as they talked about ingredients, Colombian fruits and flowers and vegetables. Elderberry was discussed in detail: how to make it into jam, Colombian capers, vinegar and tea. Alejandro spoke with the passion of a crazed chef, explaining Colombian ingredients to us foreigners.
Soon the bus stopped at a mall, which was really just a few little shops stuck together, seeming very modern in the middle of fields and farms and the astonishingly green mountains, with fuzzy cows living the good life on the mountain sides. We got off the bus and our small group was quickly on a little one-lane road which led to Alejandro’s family home.
Arriving at Alejandro’s family home, he held open a gate made of thick tree bark and our little group of chefs and writers walked through the yard to the side door of the house, where two large dogs came bounding over to greet us and rolled on the ground at our feet, begging for attention.
Leaving our umbrellas at the door, we walked down the creaking wood floor of the long hallway, admiring the house that was clearly several hundred years old. We passed a simple old fashioned kitchen on the right hand side, greeting Rosita, the talented family cook, on the way.
Then into the dining room. The thick wood furniture, old fashioned lamps, and a drawing, framed, on the wall, saying simply El Libertador and looking so old it seemed to me that the person who drew it was directly contemplating the historical figure.
The adjacent living room invited us in, with comfortable worn couches and a chimney with no fire. Within minutes a fire was started, and we sat around it, enjoying the cozy warmth on this cold, gray mountain morning.
Lemongrass aromatica was brought out, and I cupped my hands around the steaming mug to get as much warmth as I could. Homemade arequipe (Latin American caramel) was served on a platter, smooth and rich, with spoons for all. We dug into it with visible pleasure.
To continue the tour, read Part II of the Edible Flower Farm Tour in South America.
For more about Alejandro Cuellar and his gastronomic adventures, check out his blog (in Spanish).