Expat Tips and Experiences: Interview in Expats Blog

The kind people over at Expats Blog interviewed me about my experiences as an expat and writer in Colombia.

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in a suburb outside of Philadelphia, USA.

In which country and city are you living now?
I now live in the vibrant city of Bogota, Colombia.

How long have you lived in Colombia and how long are you planning to stay?
I moved to Bogota in the first months of 2012, and I don’t plan on leaving.

Why did you move to Colombia and what do you do?
I arrived in Bogota following my husband on his work assignment. As a journalist I find plenty to write about in this city I love. I enjoy writing about food, travel and culture in Colombia for newspapers, print magazines and websites in different countries.

Ready for the South American train adventure

Did you bring family with you?
Yes, my husband and my dog, a miniature Poodle that loves Bogota as much as I do.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
In general, I loved the experience. I moved to South America almost twenty years ago, and was amazed to see how the move opened me up to a new world of ideas and a way of living I would never have been able to experience if I’d stayed home.

Of course, not everything is easy, and there’s always a tendency to remember the past and compare things with my home country. But I focus on the positive and feel that every day holds a new adventure.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I mainly socialize with Colombians, who are open and friendly. I’ve made deep, lasting friendships here in South America. Definitely life in Latin America revolves around people and enjoying life, not just work and achievements.

I have a lot of expat friends, who do understand me better in some aspects, but I try not to isolate myself from the culture of the country I’m living in.

On the Plaza de BolivarMaking friends on the Plaza de Bolivar

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
One of the best things to do anywhere in Colombia is eat. There are wonderful regional dishes, and Colombian generosity and hospitality definitely involves food. There are lots of great international restaurants to try, too.

Day trips to the beautiful towns and parks outside Bogota provide a needed escape from the crazy congestion in this mega-city. And with cheap flights, it’s easy to travel nearly anywhere in Colombia. There are amazing places to visit; you can stay on a coffee farm in the coffee producing area, get a dose of history in Cartagena, explore Medellin, hide away on tropical islands or visit small villages in the Amazon jungle.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The people, since they’re so kind. And hey, it’s Colombia, so people always have time to meet for a coffee. I also enjoy the more laid-back lifestyle.

How does the cost of living in Colombia compare to the US?
It’s a lot cheaper here. One of the benefits of living in most parts of Latin America is that money certainly goes farther than in the States or Europe.

It’s also easier to live a simpler life. People here aren’t generally focused on what you have, but on who you are. So I don’t feel judged because I’m not keeping up with the latest cars, clothes and gadgets that everyone else has.

Beautiful Lake Guatavita just outside BogotaBeautiful Lake Guatavita just outside Bogota

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The standard of living can be quite low in some areas of South America, so at times I find increased crime and lack of organization and cleanliness difficult to live with.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Anyone moving to Bogota should get ready to spend long hours stuck in traffic.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Being far from my family is the biggest issue, especially when someone gets sick.

When you finally return home, how do you think you’ll cope with repatriation?
I’ve been enjoying expat life so much, I don’t plan on going back to my country to live. But I think if I did, I would be more a foreigner there than I am in South America. Living in another country has changed me and my outlook on life, has broadened my ideas, my tastes and my view of people. That’s all positive, but it also means that I’m not the same person I was when I left, and going back wouldn’t easy. Something that I think would make the transition easier would be living in an area where there are a lot of foreigners.

Enjoying a morning trip to Monserrate

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?

  1. Plan well. Research, research, research; you can never know too much about a place you plan on moving to.
  2. Be realistic. It’s a different country, but people are neither angels nor devils just because they’re foreigners. You’ll run into a lot of difficulties but that doesn’t mean the place is bad or wrong for you; it’s just part of the process of getting established abroad.
  3. Get to meet as many people as possible. That helps to overcome homesickness, enriches our lives, and helps us to learn about the local culture.
  4. Don’t focus too much on what you left behind. Reach out to embrace the new things around you.
  5. Relax and enjoy ! It’s all about the experience. Things aren’t done the same as at home, but it works for the people here. And along the way we benefit from it.

Feel free to read the full interview at Expats Blog.

An inspiring breakfast

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Comida con estilo en Bogota

Side view Container City blog

En años recientes han aparecido por todo el mundo, en lugares tan dispersos como México, Tokio, Escocia, Costa Rica, Sud África, Alemania y los Estados Unidos. Han sido utilizados en todo tipo de construcción: casas, estudios de arte, cafés, haciendas, parques y hoteles. Hasta Starbucks y Tommy Hilfiger se han unido a la tendencia y han abierto tiendas en ellos.

¿Qué son?  Contenedores de envío. Sí, esos grandes contenedores metálicos que se utilizan para mandar cosas vía marítima. Utilizando esos contenedores para la construcción les da una segunda y más permanente oportunidad de ser útil.

Colombia se ha unido a la tendencia.

Lea el artículo publicado en This Big City.

5 Things I Learned in Cartagena

Cartagena street scene

The sounds, sights and special moments of each place we visit immerse us in learning experiences. On the coast of Colombia, the enchanting city of Cartagena teaches its lessons, too. The hippest hot spot to get some Cuban retro, where to search for the most pristine beaches and even how to get the best out of a sunset are all lessons that Cartagena leaves with visitors.

Check out the full article at Societe Perrier.

Romance in Bogota

Italia Rustica

A table adorned with flowers and candles, an irresistible meal, a box of chocolates and a bottle of champagne. Everyone loves a little romance. It can spark a friendship into something more, celebrate a significant moment such as an engagement or anniversary, or add some interest to a long-standing marriage.

Romance in Bogota is alive and well, and there are plenty of extraordinary places to wow that special someone over a drink, a meal, or for some dancing.

Read the full article in The City Paper.

An Excuse to Drink Wine: Restaurante Nueve

This article is part of the Kitchen Talk – Conversations with Chefs series of this blog.

What I’d heard about Restaurante Nueve sounded good to me. I’d been told that this small restaurant in Bogota not only has 150 different wines on the wine list, but that the menu is basically designed around getting people to experience how wonderful wine can be.

That’s right up my alley. I had to visit.

I arrive at the two story building and can’t find the entrance. How do I get into this restaurant? I ask at a boutique clothing store, and am ushered through the door. I am assured that yes, this is the restaurant entrance. Yes, through the boutique clothing store. After I get passed the clothing, handbags and shoes, jewelry, I do arrive at the restaurant.

And on thinking about it, I realize that’s not such a bad idea, to combine several passions in one. Dining, wining, and shopping. Convenient.

But although I was there to eat and drink, I had another purpose; to talk with the chef, sommelier and owner, Pedro Escobar. So, to the soft voice of Norah Jones crooning in the background, Pedro and I sat in the lounge area of the restaurant to chat about food, passions, and travels.

Pedro Escobar brr

 

Pedro, who hails from Manizales, Colombia, first studied to be a lawyer. Then he decided cooking would be a less dangerous option for him, so he studied in Gato Dumas, and learned about wine in the Escuela Argentina de Sommeliers.

“Trips change us, because we learn about different flavors.”

Pedro begins to tell his Colombian story… in Spain. While travelling through Europe, he was thrilled by what he tasted. As he says, “Trips change us, because we learn about different flavors.” And he wanted to bring those flavors home to Colombia.

He also spoke of an advantage cooks have in Colombia. In Europe, there´s a lot of talk about eating vegetables in season. But in Colombia…What seasons? Here, harvest season is all year round, which is a huge advantage for a chef.

In the kitchen at Nueve

Wine and food

The full wine list at Nueve is set out on 3 slabs of wood; Argentina, Chile, U.S., Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal. Recommended wines are written on a blackboard, with their shockingly good prices. Pedro recommends a wine pairing for each course, and to go “in order”, starting with a sparkling wine, then onto a sherry, followed by rosé, then onto a red.

Cava at Restaurante Nueve

 

The menu, composed entirely of Pedro’s creations, is changed every four months. The tapas-style menu focuses on small dishes that allows diners to ask for exactly what they want, rather than just accepting the side dishes determined by the restaurant. That way people can try lots of flavors, creating a chain of flavors to go with wine pairings.

Some of the usual dishes expected of a Mediterranean-inspired kitchen are present, like risotto and ravioli. But there were unusual ones, like the rice cake made of arroz con coco (delicious coconut rice) with grilled prawns in a lemon sauce with pink pepper. The gnocchi served here have a Colombian twist: they’re made with Criolla potatos and costeño cheese served with a bacon sauce. Pedro recommends a rosé wine pairing.

 

 

Pedro loves to meet the people that come to his restaurant, and that’s why he’s kept the restaurant small: 32 seats. That way he can personally talk with the diners. To take the Spanish word that never seems to have an adequate equivalent in English, he likes to “atenderlos,” meaning attend to their every need. Not a bad philosophy for a restaurant.

 

Calle 70 A # 10 A – 18, Bogota

To find out more about the restaurant in Spanish, check out Nueve’s website.

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Hamburguesas gourmet en Bogotá

Burger town burger

La hamburguesa es la reina de la comida rápida. Al mezclar las carnes, el pan y las verduras con las salsas, el resultado es una comida deliciosa, placentera y reconfortante que el consumidor busca una y otra vez.  A la vez, la hamburguesa tradicional es una comida práctica, rápida, y económica; ni siquiera es necesario usar utensilios o disponer de mesas para consumirla. Ha convertido más de una persona en dueño de un negocio exitoso basado únicamente en esta receta.

Lea el articulo completo en la edición 59 de la Revista La Barra.

International Chefs at the 3rd Bogota Wine and Food Festival

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The directors of the Bogotá Wine and Food Festival, Gaeleen Quinn and Iris Quinn, have created a gastronomical event that promotes Colombian gastronomy and chefs, as well as international cuisines.

Some of the activities going on this week in Bogota include:

  • La Gran Degustación
  • Bubble Night
  • BBQ Night
  • Tacos and Tequila Night
  • National and international gastronomical fair
  • Brunch
  • Mixology classes

Some of the international chefs that will be present this year:

Virgilio Martinez

Virgilio, a Peruvian chef and restaurant owner, promotes the spread of Peruvian cuisine by applying modern cooking techniques to indigenous Peruvian ingredients. Recently his restaurant located in the Miraflores District of Lima, Peru, Central Restaurante, was considered by the UK magazine Restaurant to be #50 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. In 2012 he opened Senzo in the Palacio Nazarenas hotel in Cuzco and LIMA, a modern Peruvian-style restaurant in London, UK.

Hiroko Shimbo

Hiroko’s bestselling cookbook, The Japanese Kitchen, has won awards such as the Food & Wine magazine’s “Best of the Best”. Considered the definitive guide for Japanese cooks, and one of the best Asian food cookbooks in the last decades. A third cookbook will be coming out this fall.

Enrique Olvera

Some of the many awards Enrique has won over the years include: GQ Mexico’s 15 Men of the Year, Food & Wine’s 10 Most Promising World Cuisines, Travel + Leisure’s Best Tasting Menu, Best book of the Year and Best Spanish-Language Television Program. His restaurant placed 16thin the 2013 Elite Traveler & Laurent Perrier Top 100 Restaurant Guide.

Carlo Mirarchi

Chef Mirarchi is a partner in Roberta’s, which opened January of 2008. Carlo is a self-taught chef who was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2011 and gotten attention from the New York Times, Bon Appétit, and other publications. Mirarchi’s food has appeared at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, SXSW, Art Basel, and elsewhere.

Pierre Van Oost

Born in France and now living in La Paz for the last 15 years, Pierre is an international chef that has contributed to the history and development of the culinary arts in Bolivia. Among the many activities he’s participated in include being instructor for culinary workshops on quinoa, co-authoring the book Reflejo Culinario de los Lípez – Variaciones sobre Quinua Real y Llama  and co-owner of La Abuelita Restaurant.

Iñaki Aizpitarte

Iñaki is a self-taught chef, using his instinct to improvise menus that change daily.  Having traveled from Asia to Central America passing and most places in-between , Iñaki is an influential chef whose restaurant Le Chateaubriand was voted 9th best restaurant in the world according to San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best list in 2011.

Fernando Trocca

Former owner and chef of Llers in Buenos Aires and current owner of the restaurant Sucre. He spent some time as an executive chef in Mexico, and cooked his way through London, France, Spain and Italy.

Jan Niedrau

He’s the owner of one of the best restaurants in Quito, Zazuito, known for its amazing drinks and extensive menu.

Carlos Sanchez

Born in Colombia, Carlos worked in Switzerland at the Hotel Real, followed by 11 years working in New York. He’s cooked in the James Beard House in New York, and five years at the Walt Disney Resort. As the pastry chef at Parcel 104 in the Santa Clara Marriott Hotel, Carlos uses local ingredients to impress diners.

Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli     

These two Franks have been busy in recent years. They opened Frankies 457 Spuntino in Brooklyn in 2004. Two years later they opened Frankies 17 Spuntino in Manhattan. Prime Meats followed in 2009 and a month later saw the birth of Café Pedlar. That summer they opened Francis Louis Events & Catering, as well as a second Café Pedlar in NYC.

Festival runs from August 28– September 1, 2013.

Get more info from the Bogota Wine and Food Festival webpage.

 

 

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Madrid Fusion in Bogota – Food Critic Workshop Part II

José Carlos Capel and Julia Perez Lozano, two of Spain’s most renowned food critics, visited Bogota in May 2013 for their Food Critic Training sessions. They spoke to journalists, editors, chefs and others in the food industry about the role of food critics. Madrid Fusion in Bogota – Food Critic Workshop Part I summarized what they talked about, including the past, present and future of restaurants and how to go about writing restaurant reviews.

The Role of Journalists in the Food Revolution

About the role of food journalists, Mr. Capel commented, “It’s not an art, or a craft. It’s a job. The job of transmitting knowledge.  My assessment is subjective. My writing is subjective. But you have to consider the readers and base your review on the facts. Be a good storyteller. In the end, as a writer I should feel that I did what I should do; I am an informer.”

As journalists, “The answer is in our hands. It’s in our hands to help. We need to push the future.”

And then he added, “I don’t care what other people have written.”

The importance of food writers educating themselves about cooking, techniques and ingredients cannot be overstated. It’s something that’s learned over time, and with that knowledge journalists can educate the public. “We shouldn’t be concerned about fancy ingredients, whether the chef used truffles, etc. That’s not as important as how they have used even the simplest of ingredients”, emphasized Ms. Perez.

We always hear about how vital it is for restaurant critics to remain anonymous, but that can be hard to achieve for the well-known. Even when Mr. Capel tries out a restaurant far from his Madrid home, such as in Vienna or London, he’ll still get recognized.

About Colombia

“Colombia has to discover itself, discover the real treasure it has. Colombian cuisine is truly ecological; unlike in the United States, where ‘ecological’ is just a marketing tool,” was Ms. Perez’ point of view. She also emphasized that inspiration is out on the streets, not necessarily in the restaurants.

They also stressed the viewpoint that the new “vanguardia” will come from developing countries. Ferran Adria has said that the third revolution would be in Latin America, would come from the Amazon region, using ingredients that are largely unknown to the world. The public loves to hear about local foods from exotic places like the Amazon. One of those treasures that Colombia has is the amazing variety of tropical fruits. She encouraged chefs to use ingredients from this region without excluding other parts of the planet. She summed it up in one word: “Balance”.

Additionally, Latin America is home to an abundance of passion and enthusiasm, which can be lacking in other areas of the world.

Her advice to chefs was to work together, to support each other. Also, to capture ideas that are different, the experiences from Colombia that are new or original. “This is real life here, not a museum. So, go with your passion and let it shine”.

A heated discussion about the governments’ role in supporting the country’s cuisine included how the governments of Finland and Turkey have supported tourism. “Congress should be a spokesman for Colombian cuisine,” was the conclusion they arrived at.

Remembering the words of Mr. Adria, “Crear es no copiar (creating means not copying)”, they emphasized that he closed the books and invented his own style. He couldn’t stop cooking, the passion didn’t let them.

“When will Colombia do that? It’s a message of freedom. It’s also a call to action.”

Because, as Ms. Perez stressed, “If something happens and you don’t talk about it, it’s like it never happened.”

 What do you think about Colombian chefs, are they responding to that call of action?

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Madrid Fusion in Bogota – Food Critic Workshop Part I

Madrid Fusion in Bogota– Food Critic Workshop

“It’s about the people. The best part of our job is that we get to discover other cultures, people, and philosophies”.

Those words show part of what motivates José Carlos Capel and Julia Perez Lozano, two of Spain’s most renowned food critics. Visiting Bogota in May 2013 for their Food Critic Training sessions, they spoke to journalists, editors, chefs and others in the food industry about the challenges they’ve faced and the role of food critics.

And they know what they’re talking about. Mr. Capel is president of Madrid Fusion, member of the Spanish Gastronomical Academy, professor at the Universidad Menendez (Spain), food critic for the Spanish El País newspaper and author of 48 books about culinary topics. Ms. Perez has also been producing award-winning food writing for decades, and teaches contemporary cooking at the University of Barcelona.

In the midst of informal banter between the two, insight and tips were given on writing about food.

A little bit about the past… and the future

They briefly covered the history of fine cooking, starting with the cuisine of the French courts and then nouvelle cuisine. The conversation got interesting when they jumped to a discussion of “el iluminado – realmente, el loco” (the illuminated one, or just the crazy one) – Ferran Adria.

In the beginning Mr. Adria was just copying French food. They quoted him as saying, “Crear es no copiar” (Creating means not copying). So he closed the books and invented his own style. In the beginning it wasn’t easy, but he kept working hard. Even if he had to give the food away, he couldn’t stop cooking – the passion didn’t let him. And along the way he changed everything.

Mr. Capel and Ms. Perez continued with an examination of new trends such as restaurants with themes, nomadic cooks, private kitchens, dining at a chef’s house and pop up restaurants. A new concept of luxury is food bars with chefs who serve tables and interact with the diners.

Tablecloths and more elegant dining are a thing of the past. Now what’s trending are the youthful, simple places that are simply concentrating on making good food. They mentioned two restaurants here in Bogota that are doing just that – Mini-mal and Suburbio.

Focusing on the fact that restaurants are changing, they commented, “Everything’s changing. There are new parameters of luxury. What is luxury in a certain restaurant? It could be the light, or space, and those things can have tremendous value. The music also makes a big difference.”

And they stressed this point of view: The future of vanguard cooking is here, in Latin America.

How to report on the restaurant

“You don’t go to a restaurant because you’re hungry; you go because you’re looking for experiences. Experience is important even when the food isn’t. It’s not just about eating well. They should steal your heart. They should take you to another dimension”.

And they supplied a word of warning about chefs.  “Chefs try to fool critics” by serving food that the typical client wouldn’t get. “You want to report on what the customer will get at the restaurant when he goes”. Mr. Capel recommends visiting the restaurant twice, though that can be impossible when travelling.

They commented on the importance of being kind to restaurants. The goal is not to destroy them. Though sometimes, as Mr. Capel says, “I do have a go at the important people, the ones that are charging 60 euros a plate and really are just fooling people”.

How long should a food critic wait after a restaurant is open to visit? The reality is that sometimes simply because it’s new you have to go right away.

Ms. Perez added to that point: “They’re just starting up but they’re open and charging customers. So they should be ready for the criticism. What a restaurant can do is open up by stages. If things aren’t working well yet, they should give a discount.”  So in her opinion a restaurant critic should visit as soon as a restaurant is open because they’re open, they’re charging, and that makes them responsible to the public.

And a word on flavor…

Ms. Perez pointed out; “You want to see if the cooking has a solid foundation. A cute restaurant that isn’t good isn’t gastronomy. Flavor is the important thing. Don’t forget it.”

Factors to take into account when visiting a restaurant

Things to keep in mind:

  • the ingredients
  • techniques
  • preparation
  • balance in the dish
  • presentation
  • service and staff
  • ambiance and decoration

Also important:

  • Wines and wine service
  • liquors
  • drinks
  • oil (they are Spanish, after all)
  • bread
  • coffee
  • noise level
  • lighting
  • and my favorite point of all, the bathrooms (in Mr. Capel’s opinion, the third Michelin star is based on the state of the bathrooms).
  • Of course, keep in mind that indigestion is sign of bad food, so factor that in.

Mr. Capel considers it important to rate the restaurant  on a scale of 1-10. “You have to put the restaurant in its place. Don’t be quick to give them a 10, since every restaurant has a problem, a weakness”.

In all his years as a restaurant critic, Mr. Capel emphasizes; “I’ve only given one 10”.

See Part II of Madrid Fusion in Bogota – Food Critic Workshop coming out soon.

To read more about Mr. Capel and Ms. Perez’s culinary adventures, check out these blogs (in Spanish):

Madrid Fusion

Gastronotas de Capel

Gastroactitud

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The 4 Hottest (and Coolest) Rooftop Lounges in Cartagena

Ananda rooftop KPATTMAN

What makes Cartagena hot? I’m not talking about the temperature, which soars all year round. I’m talking about its boutique hotels, with their rooftop pools, lounge areas and bars all surrounded by fantastic views of the historic city.

Read about four boutique hotels in the historical section of the city that are worth the trip up to the roof in Société Perrier.

Everything Edible in Colombia