When a November 2016 peace agreement ended Colombia’s 53-year-long civil war, an unintended—and delicious—benefit resulted. Decades of guerrilla warfare prevented many Colombians from traveling freely to different parts of their own country, leaving them largely unexposed to its diverse culinary spoils. Today, adventurous chefs in Bogotá are at last exploring those riches, leading to a resurgence of regionally inspired cuisine across the nation’s capital.
“Colombia is the second-most biodiverse country on the planet,” explains Laura Hernández-Espinosa, the sommelier at Bogotá haute-cuisine spot Leo, “so there are hidden ingredients we can find throughout Colombia’s different climates and regions.” The restaurant—which ranked 18th on the 2017 S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list—takes its name from Hernández-Espinosa’s mother, head chef Leo Espinosa, who was named Latin America’s best female chef. The restaurant’s Ciclo-Bioma menu, the latest iteration of which was released last October, spans Colombia’s five climate zones—the Andes, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Amazon and Guajira jungles—and includes paiche, a massive finless Amazonian fish served in a punchy sour yucca and Brazil nut broth, and stewed capybara, sourced from a dry region of the Pacific rainforest.
Meanwhile, at 2-year-old Hippie, chef-owner Paula Silva serves dishes that feature a Technicolor array of tropical fruits not seen anywhere else on the planet alongside other strictly Colombian ingredients, such as papa criolla (Andean potato) and granadilla (a variety of passionfruit). “Bogotá, as the capital city, is at the center of this exploration,” says Silva, who returned to Colombia after four years in Barcelona.
Though the culinary tide is rising, there are still changes to be made. “It’s hard to get Colombians to part with their meat,” says Mexico-born chef Sergio Meza of Villanos en Bermudas, a restaurant he opened in 2016 with Argentine chef Nicolás López. “But we’re booking up as a plant-heavy restaurant that never serves the same thing twice.” Their artful dishes have included a white-chocolate mousse with cauliflower and amaranth; leek ceviche with grasshoppers, elderflowers, and epazote oil; and langoustine with banana broth and goat cheese.
By focusing inward, Colombia’s creative chefs are spreading word of their country’s cooking prowess. “We were isolated by conflict, from the world and each other,” Silva says, but after this year—when the Latin America’s 50 Best Awards returns to Bogotá—Colombia’s status as a global culinary citizen should be beyond doubt.