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.

Edible Flower Farm Tour in South America, Part II – What We Ate

Continued from… Part I of Edible Flower Farm Tour.

As the rain abated, we stepped out into the fresh green of the backyard garden. Alejandro pointed out notable plants and flowers on our walk over to the farm.

We passed a thick pine picnic table that was oozing resin. The smell of pine penetrated the air. Brown mushrooms grew in various places from the wood.

Not edible”, cautioned Alejandro.

Mushrooms

Our garden tour took us up past a small pond and then we walked, single file, down a narrow path to a group of cages holding chickens, guinea pigs and rabbits, all waiting for their special moment on the dinner plate (yes, guinea pigs are food here).

We admired delicate whitish-pink curuba flowers, a member of the passion fruit family, and papaya plants with small papayas clinging to the trunk.

Down at the gate we nibbled on delicate pink petals that had the surprising flavor of green apples.

Green apple

We crossed the country lane and walked down the dirt road to the vegetable garden. To the right is an old stable that Alejandro will use as the structure for his restaurant. The concept of the restaurant is to cook everything over an open fire; “Caveman style”, he comments. And of course, the vegetables will be farm fresh.

In the vegetable garden, the neatly planted rows were sown with seeds Alejandro had brought from France, the U.S. and Italy as well as seeds available in Colombia. To the left were neatly tended rows of vegetables, and to the right edible roots and fruit trees. Towards the back, behind the stable, young tomate de arbol trees stood in a line, with their fruits almost ready for picking.

Farm

I’ll admit: I was hesitant about this flower eating idea. Some of these plants were just not things I’m used to eating. For instance, a tall shrub with fern-like branches grows in the middle of the garden. Alejandro encouraged us to try it, so we cautiously tasted a few leaves – the first time that I’ve eaten a shrub. But to my relief, the strong licorice taste was pleasant.

Is this really edible?

We entered the rows and, under Alejandro’s direction, began sampling the plants we found along the way. To the far left was the broccoli row. The plants had shot out long stems with green and white flowers that, not surprisingly, tasted like broccoli. The next row had coriander, and the flowers have a distinctive taste similar to the leaves. A tall bush that we found unrecognizable turned out to be a pink pepper plant. The leaves are edible, and, surprisingly, they taste like…pink pepper.

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The aracha plant (which I can’t find an English translation for) has a hollow stem and a bland taste, similar to its root, which is used in South America for soups.

Tasty stem

When I got to the clover patch, I stared down at it, wondering if Alejandro was right and that stuff was edible. I mean, for humans. After watching others eat a few leaves, I also picked one, and was surprised by its distinct lemony tang. This lemon clover can be candied or pureed and used as a refreshing  garnish for soups.

Clover

We came across a line of borage plants, the silvery green leaves shimmering against the dark soil. But I just stared at Alejandro when he said they taste like cucumber and oysters. That leaf tastes like seafood? I accepted the leaf he held out to me, brushed off the soil clinging to it, and took a cautious bite. He was right. Cucumber and seafood in one very vegetarian leaf.

Borrage

Another tasty one

Thyme

On the way out to the road, Alejandro picked a stem from the ditch by the side of the road, broke it into pieces and gave each of us a piece to try. “It’s called Palo de Araña”, he explained. That name (Spider Stick) didn’t seem reassuring, but everyone else tried their piece so I did too. The reddish stem tasted acidic. Not among my favorites.

So the question was, how did he know what to eat and what to stay away from? Since he was a child, his father had taught him about the wonderful flavors around him. That sense of curiosity, which makes for a creative chef, has kept him not only tasting all these years but also sharing his discoveries.

Eating those delicate colors with their subtle, surprising flavors and unusual textures was a unique experience, thanks to this inventive chef with a passion for the farm fresh Colombian experience.

Alejandro Cuellar uses edible flowers to make fascinating creations:

Huerta Santa Beatriz Salad, named after his mom, has several variations. One is a carrot puree base with  langostines, vinaigrette made with langostine oil, coriander leaves, beets, capuccina flower and clover.

Another dish that caught my attention: Dill panna cotta with suero costeño, elderberry flowers and pine leaves.

For more info, photos and explanations check out Alejandro Cuellar’s blog.

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Edible Flower Farm Tour in South America Part I – The Trip

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.

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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.

Continue reading Edible Flower Farm Tour in South America Part I – The Trip

Drinking in…Cartagena

Cartagena at night KP Attman

Cartagena, a Caribbean city on the Colombian coast, was declared a UNESCO site due to its fascinating history and enthralls visitors with flower covered balconies, quaint museums and a thriving dining scene.

Evenings in Cartagena are a special time. Night falls and the lights twinkle on throughout the cobblestone streets, illuminating the centuries-old churches, plazas and homes, and horse and carriages become the preferred means of travel.

This is the moment to feel that Cartagena enchantment, whether it be at a secluded poolside bar to enjoy a signature cocktail or at a club to absorb some amazing Colombian energy.

Read this article published in Société Perrier.

 

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The Biggest Small Brewery in Bogota Tour

BBC, or Bogota Beer Company, is one of the artisan beers made in Bogota, and one of my personal favorites. So when I was invited to check out the biggest small brewery in Bogota, I couldn’t resist.

Here are some of the highlights.

Very small brewery

As you can see, it really is a small brewery.

Words to live by

With some important philosophy on the walls…

Perfect diet

I agree with Sofocles here; the perfect diet is composed of bread, vegetables…and beer.

Continue reading The Biggest Small Brewery in Bogota Tour

Vivir a lo italiano en Manhattan

Eataly: el mercado artesanal de gastronomía italiana más grande del mundo. Aquí los elementos de un mercado abierto europea se unen con un centro de aprendizaje para crear un espacio de inspiración y creatividad. Visitar Eataly es vivir a lo italiano, con toda la energía y entusiasmo que eso implica.

Eataly NY

Esta es una tienda con historias para contar.

Como dicen en Eataly, la buena comida une a todos. Algunas de las mejores experiencias de la vida se vive en la mesa de comer. Y esa mesa de comer es bien grande en Eataly, donde se combinan un mercado de manjares y vinos Italianos, un centro educativo gastronómico y siete restaurantes boutique.

Ahora Eataly llegó a Nueva York.

Para conocer mas, lee este artículo publicado en Casa Viva Cocina: Eataly- Casa Viva Cocina

Eataly cheese

CNN Insider Guide to Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia, often called the Athens of South America, has plenty to offer both business travelers and tourists. And when I talked with the editor at CNN about what kind of article he wanted about the city, he generously gave me guidance.

I thought that people should have access to an overall idea of what to see, eat and do when visiting the city, a mini insider guide to Bogota. The editor at CNN thought that would be a good idea, too, and I set off to research the article.

The result was the CNN’s Insider Guide to Bogota, an overview of my footwork around Bogota to find the best places to stay, eat, and have a good time. I hope you enjoy it!

Portfolio

kp Attman’s published clips

Here are links to some of my published articles.

Inspired to write

In English

Insider’s Guide to Bogota – CNN guide to Bogota

Getting a Piece of Cartagena – Investment in Cartagena

Taste of Home – In search of the best bagles in Bogota

Colombian Cultural Heritage – UNESCO sites in Colombia

Da Quei Matti – Pizza cooked to perfection in a wood burning stove

Sweet Success – The story of French success in Zona G

Colombian Ingenuity – Colombian street vendors

Drinking in…Santo Domingo – Where to get your vitamins in the D.R.

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And some in Spanish….

Business Class – Esquire article: interview with Air France-KLM general manager

Tentaciones Catalanas – Delicias de España

En Voz Baja – Speakeasies en los Estados Unidos

Historias destrás de las botellas – Historias de amor y creatividad que fascinan

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An inspiring breakfast

An inspiring breakfast environment at Hotel Casa Deco

Expats Blog

Everything Edible in Colombia