Cali, Colombia: Amazing Food and Outstanding People (Woman)
You might have heard all the buzz about Cali, Colombia, and its food. Let me tell you that all the hype is true. Enjoying the Valle de Cauca food and gastronomy is worth the trip, but it is the people making Cali one of the top food destinations in the world. And by the way, let me tell you that women are leading the culinary scene.
Meet and Eat
I was in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, attending a meeting of the Delice Network. The first day I was a little disappointed that I had to stay in town for a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Delice Network while the rest of the delegation was visiting a sugar cane farm. But after all, staying in town was great. We had a productive meeting of the Board, and were hosted by Stefania Doglioni, Director of the Tourism Office at the Municipality of Cali. This was the beginning of my discovery of Cali, Colombia.
Women Leading the Way
I was raised in a household where women were in charge of the kitchen and food. My mom is an outstanding cook, and she learned from my grandmother, who used to spend hours every day in the kitchen preparing all meals for the family. The same is common around the world, with maybe a few exceptions (like on my father's side of the family, where my grandfather was a great cook). But I don't know why, when we look at restaurants, there are usually men who are given the opportunity to run and operate restaurants. While in Cali, I was glad to see that many women are opening doors and leading the way.
Chef Catalina Velez - Food Experience
From a family of doctors, Catalina studied business administration and later on discovered her passion for food while attending the Art Institute of Atlanta and receiving a certificate from Cordon Bleau in Paris.
I was lucky that during our meeting at the offices of the Secretariat of Tourism of Cali, lunch was prepared by Chef Catalina Velez, who took us on "a journey through the Colombian biosphere," and sure it was a journey. To quench our thirst, we enjoyed a drink made with Capoazu, manuare salt, and sugar cane honey. Truly refreshing. Our appetizer was the famous pandebono, with butter made with the polarizing chontaduro (some love, some do not, but I am in the first group), raw hearts of palm, and avocado. The main dish was artisanally fished tuna, with fermented dapeno lemon pickle and quinoa tabbouleh. Chef Velez ended our tour with a sticky chocolate cake DO Tumaco, vanilla Cream DO Choco, and Orange and Ginger Jam.....and of course to be able to go back to work, some Cafe de Colombia.
We went to one of Chef Velez at her restaurants, the Sensorium in Cali. I will not even try to describe the experience and food of this restaurant but check out this video.
Chef Martha Jaramillo - Am I at someone's home?
Chef and owner of El Ringlete restaurant in Cali, Chef Jaramillo works with local products, looking to preserve the region's culture while supporting small producers.
My lunch with Chef Jaramillo was also amazing (even though I ate way more than I was supposed to, but who can say no to her amazing food). I felt like a true local while eating chicharron (fried pork meat), tamales, encocada with seafood, and other local dishes. But one of my pleasant surprises was the pegao (which vaguely translates to "stuck"). This is the crispy and dried rice from the bottom of the pan, which is sprinkled in different dishes.
Chef Vicky Acosta Cruz - Can I eat the Center Piece? (YES!!!)
After a full day of meetings, we headed to the restaurant Platillos Voladores, from Chef-Owner Vicky Acosta Cruz. The table was beautifully decorated with several local fruits and vegetables, many of which we had never seen or tasted before, so guess what happened when a group of food enthusiasts and chefs from around the world saw that? Well, we cracked open many of them, tried them, and started a fun conversation. By no means does that ruin our appetite. We enjoyed chips of carantanta, arrancha, and green plantains. Balls of guava plantain and native potatoes stuffed with chontaduro and cheeses were followed by fish and shrimp casserole with hogao, coconut milk, blue crab meat, and crispy squid. To finish, Colombian chocolate fondant.
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