Two of the top chefs in Colombia, Rodrigo Pazos from Llorente Restaurant, awarded best new restaurant in the area by La Barra Awards, and Catalina Velez, a published chef and the top advocate for healthy food in the country, got together in an exceptional four-hand 7-course dinner sponsored by Aqua Panna & S.Pellegrino.
The collaboration gave us the opportunity to taste flavors and ingredients from the Colombian Pacific coast in a creative way with dishes worthy of the best restaurants in the world. The chefs wanted to focus on the produce and highlight the flavors and unique properties of these wonders of nature.
4-hands dinner events follow the same pattern most of the time: one menu with alternate dishes prepared by two chefs. One chef is generally the host and the other the guest coming from another country, another city or just another local restaurant. Both chefs present a number of signature dishes trying to showcase technique, local ingredients and style the best they can. In some cases the chefs will co-create dishes for the evening inspired by each other’s cuisines.
The dinner started with a welcome drink called “Viche” followed by some of the best empanadas de pipían that we ever tasted. This type of empanada is traditional of the Pacific region and are filled with a mixture of potato and peanuts. They were accompanied by 3 types of sweet and spicy traditional “aji” also from the region.
The next dish was a Tuna with piñuela sauce, that was free of superfluous ingredients, and was only decorated with some yellow petals. The fish and the sauce, made with piñuela, an exotic fruit native of Central and South America, worked wonderfully together and the flavors transported us to the coast with just a couple of bites.
The second dish of the night was a piangua with chontaduro cream. The piangua is a shell mollusk from the Pacific coast that is considered a gastronomic delicacy. Diners received a plate with two of them already open, each one with two small bits of yellow chontaduro cream. Chontaduro or peach palm fruit, is one of the most exotic fruits found in Colombia and is famous by its nutritional and aphrodisiac properties. The dish was rapidly consumed and the strong flavors of the pinagua meat contrasted with the sweetness of the fruit in a combination that really tasted like the sea.
The next dish was one of the best of the evening. It was a squid cannelloni with hogao consomé (chicken soup). Hogao is a traditional Colombian seasoning sauce made with long green onions and tomatoes. Chef Rodrigo told us that this dish was an example of what could be accomplished in one of these four-hand special dinners, a very unique creation that could be difficult to put in a more tradicional restaurant menu. And he was right, the dish was an inventive combination of soft textures and perfectly balanced flavors that left us wanting more.
The fourth dish of this 7-course dinner was a true pice of culinary art. Carpacho of ullucos (ullucus) and añejo was served in a pink dish that complemented the different colorful preparations of this regional root vegetable. Ulluco’s texture is similar to that of the potato and it can be cooked in many ways. This dish was an example of this with some of it cut in thin crispy slices and some presented in thicker pieces, both equally delicious. The dish was topped with “añejo” or fermented corn from the Nariño region.
The last of the main courses of the menu was also one of our favorites. Red Pargo from the Pacific with encocado smoked in Bijao was another well-executed and very Colombian dish. It was a perfectly cooked fish with coconut sauce smoked inside a wrapping of Bijao leaves just like a tamale. The Bijao leaves are used in different parts of the world as decoration or containers to transport or serve fish and other ingredients.
Now it was time for the two desserts of the night. First was “Chuyaco” A fresh combination of orange, guanabana (soursop) with bits of cilantro and panela (unrefined whole cane sugar), and topped with a crunchy cracker served inside a glass so we could see all the colorful ingredients. This is a variation of a traditional dish from the department of Valle del Cauca where chef Catalina Vélez was born.
The second and last dessert has a story that originates in the city of Popayan where chef Rodrigo Pazos was born. The story goes that in 1938 Colombian president Eduardo Santos was invited to Popayan for a banquet in his honor. After the dessert that was supposed to be served that day went bad, one of the ladies in charge of the kitchen improvised a dessert that included fruits in syrup, condensed milk, milk cream, prunes and walnuts. The dessert was such a success that when president Santos asked for the name, they decided to name it after him.
Now many years later, we had the privilege to taste a version of that stroke of genius as a perfect ending to a very Colombian four-hand dinner full of inspiring stories, amazing flavors and excepcional culinary skill.
We sure felt at home.