So you’ve likely heard of foods from countries like Mexico, Peru, and Argentina and salivated from them. But now is the time for Colombia – and in particular its second city, Medellin – to take the spotlight.
Known as the City of Eternal Spring, Medellin was named the third best city in the world for 2022 – and best for food and drink specifically. A hive of creativity and entrepreneurship in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, the city provides Creative chefs with a perfect playground to discover ingredients and experiment with dishes.
Below we meet three of Medellin’s most famous chefs, all dedicated to promoting their city, country and the social cohesion that the city’s bustling dining scene fosters.
The Michelin-starred chef has reinvented national cuisine
Perhaps Colombia’s most famous chef, Juan Manuel Barrientos (Juanma), a Medellin native, is the mastermind and imaginative behind ElCielo. Medellín is home to the original ElCielo restaurant but there are also outposts in Bogota, Washington DC, and Miami. DC Juanma made the first-ever Colombian chef to receive a Michelin star in 2021, while this year’s Miami version also received its own Michelin star.
After studying gastronomy in both Spain and Argentina, Juanma wanted to return to Medellin and reinvent Colombian cuisine – but nowhere in the city was open for that. So the only option was to open his own restaurant: like a culinary laboratory, ElCielo honors the different climates of Colombia in its ingredients and produces tactile dishes that excite emotions and excite the senses. Impressively, ElCielo also has its own establishment that trains ex-guerrilla fighters and ex-soldiers to become chefs. In this way, people from both sides of the conflict learn and work together, promoting tolerance, inclusion and social cohesion.
Guanma says one of his favorite Colombian foods is the humble arepa, a dense corn tortilla found in various forms throughout Colombia. His team is currently traveling across the country recording the many heirloom arepa recipes and honoring the country’s most famous and comfort food.
For Juanma like many piza (The indigenous people of Medellin) witnessed the dramatic development of his city firsthand, and Medellin is defined by the warmth and resilience of its people. If he had to describe his city in one word, he would say it would be “awesome”.
A mundane chef who blends Colombian and Asian flavours
After completing her studies at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, Laura Londono cut her teeth cooking at the three-starred Astrance in Paris and two-star Il Rigoletto in Italy. Then she made her way to Asia and Australia to try other cuisines.
Fascinated by her experiences with Asian cuisine in particular, Laura returned to Medellin with a plan to open a restaurant that would incorporate all the techniques and flavors she had gathered during her years abroad. She wanted to bring them into the Colombian context, with an emphasis on slow-cooker sharing plates – and so she opened Oci.Mde.
Its philosophy is that food should be prepared as close as possible to where it is eaten. Oci.Mde dishes include beef tenderly cooked for 12 hours and served with Colombian green pepper sauce, mashed yuca and fruit salad. Laura’s vision has been a huge success: Oci.Mde is now one of the most sought-after restaurants in the city.
Passionate about food and its role in creating change in her country, Laura also founded Recolecta Medellín, an organization that collects surplus food and delivers it to vulnerable communities.
the houseTalent has grown in raising local ingredients
Unlike other famous chefs, Yeison Mora never left Colombia (or even Medellín) to go to culinary school. He received a scholarship to study at the city’s Catholic University of Luis Amigo for his first ever culinary course before actually developing his passion for food through an internship at ElCielo in Guanma.
Yeison ended up working at ElCielo for a decade, progressing to become Medellín’s head chef. While there, he had the opportunity to travel and exchange ideas with the maestro at world-renowned restaurants such as Central in Lima and El Celler de San Roca in Girona.
After years of experience and expertise, Yeison decided to open a humble restaurant focused on ingredients. His creation, Idílico, prides itself on “ecological cuisine”, including carefully selected ingredients that honor the four corners of Colombia. One dish features a Medellin skyline artfully created from squid ink and apple sauce, along with an arepa topped with crunchy pork, seasonal oranges, and edible flowers inspired by the city’s vibrant annual flower festival.
Yeison says it was inspired by piza‘Designer, entrepreneur’ behavior position. For him, the city’s proactivity and optimism is what makes Medellin stand out.
From a dark past to a thriving present, Medellín is working to cement its place on the world stage. Just like the colorful fruits, flowers and plants that define the City of Eternal Spring, the resilience of Medellín will see it flourish. Obviously nothing can stop the designer Pisa From pursuing a stubborn dream and coming out on top.
Discover our full ranking of the world’s 53 best cities for 2022.