2017 is looking to be a great year for Leonor Espinosa. Just a few months after winning the prestigious Basque Culinary World Prize, the Colombian chef is back in the gastronomy industry’s spotlight for a different accolade: Latin America’s best female chef in 2017.
The title was given to Espinosa by the organizers of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants — the same list on which Leo, Espinosa’s very own flagship restaurant in Bogotá, currently holds the 16th position. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Leo was also voted the Best Restaurant in Colombia in 2016.
Espinosa is a master of Colombian culinary traditions; from seared tuna coated with crushed ants to carne oreada — a jerky-like steak which originates from the Santander region — her food aspires to elevate her country’s local cuisine to fine dining status. Given Colombia’s current gastronomic identity crisis, this is no small feat.
“Colombia is now where Peru was 15 years ago,” says the celebrity chef, referring to the country’s worrying dining landscape: dominated by international restaurants, and bereft of local Colombian flavours. Espinosa, however, is not disheartened. In fact, she sees Peru as a hopeful example of a change that she’s evidently determined to set into motion.
“In Peru, wherever you go, you’ll find anticuchos, cevicherias, sangucherias — much more Peruvian than international cuisine,” says Espinosa. “Like Colombia, Peru had a lot more international than local restaurants. That has changed, and it’s partly the Peruvians who have changed it — by becoming proud of their own cuisine. We are in that process now.”
Espinosa is following in the steps of some of the world’s top chefs who have gone before her, such as Albert Adrià, whose Barcelona restaurant Pakta offers a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines. Besides Leo, Espinosa also helms Misia, another restaurant in Bogotá. The common factor for both is her inventive local cuisine — the result of dedicated research in Colombian ingredients and sustainable practices which she promotes through her foundation, Funleo.
In addition to research, Funleo also supports local Colombian communities and producers. It was for this reason that the former economist and artist was deemed worthy of the Basque Culinary World Prize , which honours chefs who make a difference in the world of gastronomy. Last July, Espinoso was recognized for her efforts by a jury composed of industry bigwigs such as Joan Roca, Dominique Crenn and Michel Bras. Later this year, she will attend the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants event in Bogotá on October 24, where she will receive her new award for Best Female Chef.