In the centre of Bogotá, down a romantic stone alley that evokes Colombia’s past history, is Leo, Leonor Espinosa’s restaurant. There, she carries out her research, works on her passion for local produce and revives Colombian culinary knowledge. This results in delicious, innovative, creative dishes that are in tune with contemporary expectations of cuisine as they are rich in tradition and respectful of the environment. Her work has earned her the title of Latin America’s Best Female Chef 2017, awarded by Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Alongside her day-to-day work, she runs a socially responsible project called FUNLEO, a foundation she created in 2008. In the belief that gastronomy can be a driver for development and a way to improve people’s quality of life, this foundation works for the welfare of Colombian communities via transformative initiatives: Work for which she earned the Basque Culinary World Prize, awarded by the Basque Culinary Center.
Leonor’s cuisine is not only based on her passion for the roots of Colombian gastronomy. The study of the eating habits of various Colombian peasant ethnic groups has led to research – hand in hand with biologists, producers and growers – on the ecosystems that make up the biomes of different regions of Colombia. As a result of this work, Leonor and her daughter, Laura, a sommelier, have managed to create dishes using promising species from different regions of Colombia, giving rise to a gastronomic idea called CICLO-BIOMA.
CICLO-BIOMA is a menu created with local produce – from mountains, the páramo, the desert, plains, valleys, the sea, islands, mangroves, jungles and rivers – that recreates the balance between living species, the hand of humankind, people’s eating habits and the climate factor that is behind ecosystems and biodiversity. These places are sources of inspiration for Leonor and Laura, and some of the ingredients that are used in the dishes of this menu are: crab, beef, cacay nuts, yucca, mushrooms, jumbalee fruit, coquindo, cubio or mashua tubers, chugua or olluco, palm hearts, feijoa or pineapple guava.
The innovative pairing of these dishes with age-old drinks such as aguapanela with herbs, rice horchata, or claro de maíz made with corn, whose flavours are enhanced by combining them beautifully with spirits made from wild sugar cane, aromatic herbs and vines, are, says Leonor, ‘not only fun but can heal the body.’
By Ximena Hernández