Colombian food is very diverse. It offers dishes that have been handed down from generation to generation, influenced by not only indigenous Colombian culture, but Spanish, African and Arab nuances as well. Over the years, the concoction of flavours from different influences has given Colombian cuisine its complex flavour profile.
Chef Sergio Meza, who has been under the tutelage of the best chefs in the world from Noma to In De Wulf, talks about the concepts of Colombian cooking as he brings some of his signature dishes to the local diners here from 24th to 26th January for St. Regis Kuala Lumpur Guest Star Chef Series.
He describes Colombian food as versatile, rich and colourful, typically paired with familiar flavours that are comforting at the same time. Similar to Malaysian cooking, Colombian cuisine is spicy, zesty and hearty. There is heavy use of rice and meat in its dishes with a focus on comfort food.
“The most famous ones are Ajiaco and Bandeja paisa, but both are very carb-centered. Ajiaco is a potato and chicken soup, extremely heavy. Similarly, we have Bandeja paisa, which is a dish with pork belly, minced beef, chorizo, rice, beans, plantains, avocado and a tomato sauce called ‘hogao’,” explains the 28-year-old chef.
Other classic Colombian delicacies include tamales (seasoned meat and cornmeal steamed in corn husks or banana leaves), pescado frito (Colombian-style fried whole fish) and arroz atollado (spiced rice dish similar to the jambalaya).
“It has a very home-centered flavour profile, and chefs are starting to center themselves on local produce and old-school techniques applied in a more avant-garde way. It is also about taking pride in locally grown ingredients, rather than imported produce,” shares the Mexican chef.
From the kitchens of Villanos en Bermudas, which is ranked 15th in the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, Chef Sergio will be presenting a 7-course menu that encapsulates the beauty of Colombian cooking with a Malaysian approach using local produce.
How would you describe Colombian cuisine?
It’s an interesting mix with the Caribbean and Creole influences, with a heavy use of fruit and an everlasting sweetness to it. They’re very big on rice and meat, too — not very vegetarian.
What makes a good Colombian dish?
Here, if people don’t have a bowl of rice and beans, they feel like they didn’t eat. They are all about quantity rather than quality, so most people eat to stuff themselves rather than for the enjoyment of it. It’s something we’re all trying to change, but it’s a cultural mentality issue.
You’re bringing the unique elements of Colombian cooking to Malaysia. How are you combining the classic flavours of Colombian food into the Malaysian palate?
What I want to do is take some combinations and flavour profiles from this side of the world and adapting it with local Malaysian products – it is similar to lending Latino techniques and philosophy in my restaurant.
Colombian food is something very unfamiliar to foodies in Malaysia. Share with us three reasons why Malaysians should fall in love with Colombian cooking.
Freshness, complexity and the overall playfulness that come with Latin-American influences which is similar to the complex flavours of many Asian cuisines.
What do you enjoy cooking the most and can you share with us a simple Colombian recipe that any Malaysian can try at home?
I’m all about Mexican food at home, and I love fresh spicy flavours — also things that don’t take too long to prepare. Aguachile, which is a distant cousin of the ceviche, (but a million times spicier) is a personal favourite. There’s a green variety with cucumber, coriander, onion and chillies that make the perfect marinade for raw shrimp, each person has his own recipe, and I never make it the same twice.
What defines the true Latino spirit in your cooking and what can we expect from your Guest Star Chef Series collaboration with St. Regis Kuala Lumpur?
For me, it’s all about the spirit and the fine details. Some dishes may seem simple, but they have a concept or a train of thought behind it. I think showing a different style or ways of handling ingredients can be crucial to this dining experience. And also, there’s always this underlying similarity between Asian and Latino cuisines, which makes the process a lot more fun and enjoyable.
Lastly, how should one really enjoy the real Colombian dining experience?
Well, Colombians mostly drink beer, ice cold. Or their local cane distillate called “aguardiente” which has a very strong anise flavour. Other than that they really enjoy fresh fruit juice.
We want to respect the product, taking it in its purest and cleanest taste. We’re in a city that is in the process of breaking away from the more classic cuisine towards something new. When people see Villanos en Bermudas as a fine dining restaurant, we want them to relate that to simplicity: we serve beans, bread, potatoes – the dishes Colombians eat at home every day. The only thing we change is the format, so we might put beans in a dessert or combine it with fruit in a way they would never imagine
The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur’s Guest Star Chef Series dinner with Chef Sergio Meza will be available at The Brasserie on the 24th to 26th of January 2019.