We always seem to have the desire to celebrate those in our community whose creative impulses make them look beyond themselves and their immediate benefit and see the big picture of the community they belong to. These are people who manage to reach deep within and find what matters most, and then publicly present that for others to share.
For women working within the male-dominated restaurant industry, that’s not easy to do. But Chef Luz Beatriz Vélez has been doing that for years. As chef and co-founder of the restaurant Abasto in Bogota, she has been busy focusing on local ingredients and working with farmers and artisan producers.
Of course, Luz Beatriz hasn’t been alone in her mission. Her search for fresh, local ingredients in Bogota led her to found Abasto in Usaquén (a neighborhood in the north of Bogota) with Benjamín Villegas of Wok fame. That was back in 2007, at a time when the farm-to-table mentality was barely mentioned in the city. This is food that goes beyond the search for the freshest ingredients. It’s food with a social message, a call to buy from the local farmer and promote fair trade in Colombia.
Not surprisingly, the awards have followed. Year after year she’s been on the ‘Best of’ lists at the La Barra Awards, a sort of Oscars for the food industry in Colombia. In 2012 and 2014 she was voted Second Best Chef in Colombia. And Abasto took the award for third best casual restaurant in 2014 (this year’s awards are coming up soon, so we’ll see who wins).
One of Luz Beatriz’s passions is arepas, those little patties made of corn flour or ground corn that are the backbone of the Colombian diet (Abasto gets creative and makes them with other vegetables). In fact, her passion for the bread of Colombia led her to take her arepa recipes to Madrid Fusion, Madrid’s prestigious gastronomic festival.
Some ingredients don’t come from that close to Bogota – for instance, it’s obvious that octopus can’t be found in the high plains of Bogota, but it can come from Colombian coastal waters; and in Abasto, that’s where it’s from.
Check out the webpage to see the different fruits and vegetables used in Abasto. Chonto tomatoes made with native seeds. Gulupa. Granadilla. Cubios. Ají wai-ya. Macadamia from the coffee growing region of Colombia. Marañón (cashew) from Tolima. Homemade marmalades and organic honey. Their homemade breads are brought over from the Usaquén store: rye, quinoa, or squash breads, scones and muffins. Their organic coffee comes from small farms, and is roasted in the Abasto Bodega in Usaquen.
They use a variety of Colombian cheeses in their dishes: queso paipa, cuajada de Choachí, queso costeño, siete cueros del llano and campesino de cabra. Breakfast is one of my favorite times at Abasto, with an array of arepas (guajira, mote, egg, quinoa, purple corn) and some of the best pancakes I’ve had in South America.
Abasto recently opened up a new version of itself in Quinta Camacho, Bogota. I was invited to the launch, and curious about Luz Beatriz’s new project, I joined the chefs, food writers, editors of food magazines, bloggers and other supporters of Abasto to check out the new place.
This Abasto is right on the corner of Carrera 9 in Quinta Camacho, Bogota. Just a few blocks to the west of Zona G, which has long the main focus of the gastronomic scene in Bogota (guess what the G stands for), Quinta Camacho is the natural extension of the G Zone. The area is filled with English-style houses; a neighborhood that entrances with its Old World feel, restaurants with gardens out front, and parks that run through the middle of the streets.
Abasto Quinta Camacho resides in a large two-story house from the 1950s. Downstairs, the kitchen houses a Josper oven, which is a mix somewhere between an oven and a charcoal grill, and makes a very tender product.
At the launch, we ate:
- Grilled hearts of palm with lemon and olive oil: grilling them brings out a nutty taste.
- A creamy arroz caldoso, something similar to a risotto, with shrimp and a spot of avocado.
- Empanadas filled with papa criollo and hogao with lulo aji. Does that sound like Greek to you? These are flavors that you just have to come to Bogota to try.
- Sausage sandwich with chimichurri on homemade bread.
- Grilled octopus with tomato veggies and a touch of ginger.
- Chontadura empanadas with cubio. Frankly, when they told me what this was, I did not want to eat it. I’ve had chontadura on the streets of Bogota, and it hasn’t been a pleasant experience – a bland, flavorless mass of orange. And improperly cooked cubios are a grey, slimy mass of root vegetable. BUT don’t get discouraged – these empanadas were wonderful, crispy on the outside and flavorful on the inside. The cubio sauce was tangy and refreshing.
Appetizers from COP$11,000 to COP $15,000**
Main dishes from COP$18,000 to $35,000
Calle 69A # 9-09, Quinta Camacho, Bogota
** COP means that the prices are in Colombian pesos, not that there are Colombian meal police watching what you eat.**