Michael Laiskonis in Bogotá, Colombia
Michael Laiskonis, the pastry chef at New York City’s Le Bernardin restaurant, recently made his first trip to South America for the inaugural Bogotá Food and Wine Festival in Colombia. “Bogotá is as cosmopolitan as any major city, drawing influences from Europe and North America,” says Laiskonis. “Prior to working with chef Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin, my references were limited to Europe and Asia,” says Laiskonis. “The Latin and Caribbean flavors Eric has infused into dishes over the years has certainly piqued my own interest in broadening my horizons.” How appropriate: Laiskonis announced recently that he’ll be leaving Le Bernardin at the end of the year. Here, he shares his favorite food finds in Bogotá.
“Lunch here was a great introduction to traditional Colombian fare. Once our table of a dozen visiting and local chefs was complete, family-style portions began flying out of the kitchen: a flight of arepas—each one different than the last—hit the table. Next to appear were empanadas of various sizes, shapes and filling. Small and pleasantly salty roasted potatoes gave way to a platter of traditional salchichas (shown below), which included a blood sausage with the faintest hint of cumin, its richness cut only by the novel addition of chickpeas. Just when we thought we’d finished, my colleagues and I were confronted with a massive helping of rice and beans, topped with a fried egg. Somehow we made it through.” Carrera 9 # Av 82 No. 9 – 11, Bogotá D.C., Bogotá – 57/1-249-5681
“Harry Sasson is among the most successful restaurateurs in the city. His eponymous restaurant had the air of a Hollywood hotspot—in fact, Harry himself seemed to command the kitchen and the dining room with the attention to detail and jovial sincerity of Wolfgang Puck. His novel spin on Mediterranean cooking as expressed through local ingredients was executed by an impressive army of cooks. Though Harry splits his time between Bogotá and the States, the locals are indeed lucky that he calls his native city home.” Carrera 9 # 75-70, 57/1-347-7155, harrysasson.com
Mercado de Paloquemao
“Whenever in a foreign country, I always try to set aside time for a market tour, and it’s usually a highlight of the visit. Our early morning trek to one of Bogotá’s markets was no exception. From fairly familiar fruits like guanabana to bizarre roots and tubers, each stall presented a wealth of local produce. I wandered and tasted, quietly cataloging inspiration for later use in the Le Bernardin kitchen. It’s impossible to fully understand a culture and its cuisine in such a short timeframe, but one does learn a lot about a people by what they eat. And seeing the bustling market from a chef’s perspective is a humbling experience; the sights, sounds and smells are small seeds that will slowly germinate over time and influence my cooking in subtle ways.” On Calle 19 at Carrera 27. Open daily from 3am to noon.
“From traveling in Puerto Rico, I had long been familiar with sancocho, the complex stew that is often said to represent one of the first ‘fusion’ dishes on record, marrying the techniques and ingredients of the old and new worlds. While there are many Latin derivatives, it is still considered a kind of national dish in Colombia and is fairly ubiquitous. Finding myself at a tiny alfresco table in some out-of-the-way alley near the foot of Monserrat—the city’s highest point at over 10,000 feet—it seemed apropos to sample the Colombian version. It was DIY affair: a bowl of hot broth was flanked by piles of chicken, plantain, avocado, and a yucca-like starch, all to be added at your whim. At that altitude, there’s a constant chill in Bogotá’s air, and that warm and spicy soup hit the spot.