By Patrick HiegerWith a five-course brunch and an inspired new look outlook on where Colombia can head as a leading culinary force in South America, the fourth annual edition of the Bogotá Wine and Food fest officially came to a close yesterday. Over the course of five days, guests of the various talks and cooking events throughout Bogotá were given a strong dose of perspective from national and international culinary professionals on just what Colombia needs to become the next hot spot for destination dining on the continent. Next year’s festival will undoubtedly bring even more talent from around the world, and Bogotá will have spent an entire year pushing ahead, offering more great restaurants and gastronomic highlights to explore.
The main highlight of the closing weekend was the street food festival that featured local restaurants and chefs, as well as invited talent cooking up traditional Colombian dishes and innovative new takes on local ingredients. Chefs jumped from one booth to another to help out as lines grew longer with happy guests coming back for seconds. Live musicians punctuated the laughter, the happy sighs after delicious plates, and the camaraderie that the wide variety of chefs shared as they helped to support Colombia and its incredible larder. And the food was some of the best of the entire event, little bites bursting with a variety of flavors new and old.
With every cooking event nearly sold out for five days (two turns of the closing brunch were packed full), Bogotá Wine and Food certainly did its job of raising a huge amount of money for the Fundación Escuela Taller. Although a few of the big names that were expected to arrive dropped out at the last minute, the success of this year’s festival will undoubtedly allow it to become bigger and better next year, assuring that the lineup of speakers will be top notch.
Below, some observations on the five days of the festival:
• As with most of South America, food is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and culinary professionals young and old want to make big things happen for Bogotá. There is a missing sense of pride in local, native ingredients that can be felt whenever these cooks speak, but they also recognize that the key to Colombia’s success will be a return to tradition. Knock a group down for long enough, and they’re bound to regain strength and come back fighting. Keep an eye on Colombia. They have all the resources necessary to become as big as Peru.
• There is no end to Colombians’ love for their biggest chain, Crepes and Waffles. Although chefs were dishing out tamales, fresh cane juice, smoked sandwiches, and a whole lot more at the street food festival, the Crepes and Waffles line was the longest of all. National pride.
• At the corner of Calle 85 with Carrera 11, there’s a guy who grills the most incredible arepas on a small grill attached to the front of his bike. Go ahead and look for a better arepa in Bogotá, but we’re pretty sure this is the best.
• Give Dominique Crenn 20 minutes and a microphone, and you’re bound to get an incredible presentation. Easily one of the best speakers of the festival, she got an entire room talking, thinking, and ready to act. We’re expecting to hear of her return to Colombia very soon.
• There is seemingly no end to the greatness that Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa can achieve. Hers was, by far, the most photographed / Instagrammed / talked about menu of the festival. She has a foundation that is not only trying to rescue underused and undiscovered native ingredients, but is also giving afro-Colombian women a chance at a good life. She also has impeccable taste in eyeglasses.
• Andrés Carne de Res is restaurant crack, and it is everywhere. From the two-level food court on top of a luxury shopping mall to the massive, multi-acre complex that sits about thirty minutes outside of Bogotá in Chia, locals cannot get enough of the epilepsy-inducing decor, the heaping portions of meat, or the freak show of a wait staff that seem to love their job. Even if they don’t hold their spot on the 50 Best this year, you cannot come to Bogotá and not go for a meal.
• David Kinch has a pretty awesome wardrobe stocked with cool tropical shirts, Ray Ban shades, and shiny gold New Balance sneakers. Beach life 101.
• The bar scene in Bogotá is solid, and they make a damn good gin and tonic. Our faves of the festival were Bandido, Apache, Gordo, and Nolita.
• Palo Quemado, the massive meat / produce / flower market located on the far South side of the city, is perhaps the best market in South America. Yes, Surquillo #1 in Lima is awesome, but they don’t have millions of fresh flowers outside. Inside the market (story forthcoming), you’ll find everything from live chickens to fruits whose name you can’t pronounce, but must eat. The vendors are exceptionally inviting and eager to let you try their stock.
• Lulados may be the greatest fruit drink ever created. Imagine a fruit that looks like a tomatillo inside, but tastes like an orange-apple-passion fruit hybrid, mashed up and mixed with ice and water. Throw in some aguardiente (like the locals do), and you’ve got yourself quite a treat.
• The Roca brothers are gastronomy’s Elvis. Like, getting rushed off a stage past adoring fans into waiting cars famous. They also look damn good in suits.
• Although he only identifies himself as a butcher interested in bringing the best, most sustainable meat possible to the masses, Renzo Garibaldi is about to become the biggest culinary celebrity on the continent. When the man picked up a knife and started cutting some meat, crowds flocked. When he talks about muscles, crowds are silent. His private dining table that seats eight at Lima’s Osso is sold out for two and a half months. Pretty impressive for a butcher.
• The best tater tots ever are at Gordo. Daniel Castaño’s homage to Brooklyn is chock full of hand-crafted takes on the American food he spent ten years enjoying while living in New York, and the pork-infused tots might be the best thing on the menu. After the fried pickles. And the bahn mi. And the burger. And the barrel-aged Negroni. And, well, you get the point.
• If you take the cable car up the hill to Monserate, there’s a woman at the back end of the hallway of local restaurants serving two kinds of homemade hooch. One, “wisky” in a clay bucket. The other, a Jägermeister-like herbal infusion made with aguardiente. Don’t worry, you’re not going to go blind. Drink up. The view gets even better.