Anyways, the Taste Workshop event focused on yuca and was hosted by Slow Food Bogotá and Mundo Wok. To be honest, I was surprised at the quality of the event. After all, I’ve been back in Colombia for five (going on six) years now and these are the first signs of life from the local Slow Food convivium. I really hope that there are many many more events like it.
The event began with a yuca cocktail, of course. Yuca juice, soy milk, gulupa juice and sake – unusual, yes, but it tasted like something I would order again. Next were the appetizers: first a kind of chicha called Caguana de Yuca Brava made by the Uitoto indigenous community of Putumayo. Two representatives from this community were present to discuss the role of yuca in their culture.
For instance, men have very little to do with yuca at any stage. It’s the women who organize the planting, clearing of land, harvesting, preparation and cooking. While sitting around the hearth, grandmothers will appoint their daughters and granddaughters to different tasks. It takes a special woman, with special hands, to plant yuca, and it takes another kind of woman with different skills to peel and grate yuca. This kind of wisdom and know-how is passed down generation to generation every year.
The next appetizer was Mote de yuca y queso costeño made by one of my favorite chefs in Bogotá, Diana García of Diana Garcia – Chef en Movimiento. It was a shot glass portion of a yuca-based soup with chunks of salty cheese from the coast. Traditionally mote is made of corn but being a yuca event, another chef challeneged her to make it with yuca and the result was a success.
The final appetizer was inspired by tapas called montaditos and created by chef Tomás Rueda from Tábula (one of the restaurants that Tony Bourdain visited for his new show). A slice of morcilla (Colombian blood sausage) sat atop a cripsy breaded croquette of yuca and cauliflower. This one was a winner for me. The textures, flavors and aroma of the herb used in morcilla called poleo, made it a hit. I only wish we could have had more than one!
After a chat by a representative from the organization Semillas de Identidad about the conservation of native seeds and the traditional production of yuca in different areas of Colombia, and an introduction to Slow Food by Lia Poggio, the Director of Latin American operations, we moved to the dining area for the main course tastings paired with Bogotá Beer Company beers.
Again Diana García spoiled us with a Guiso de Camarones en leche de coco titoté. A small serving of perfectly cooked shrimp and bites of tender yuca in a mild coconut milk sauce. There were a few bites of eggplant and bell peppers for color and presentation but the sauce is what really made the dish. We had jugo de corozo (the fruit of a palm tree) which is made by boiling corozo seeds and then straining them. Delicious.
Next came a yuca souffle with goat cheese and pink peppercorns. The souffle was delicate although not as light as a traditional souffle due to the density of the yuca. It was however delicious and the presentation in the yuca skin was impressive and an excellent use of raw materials.
A smoked chicken dish came next, prepared by another one of my favorite chefs, Eduardo Martinez from Mini-Mal. He implemented a smoking technique used by amazonian cultures and although the dish was extremely simple in presentation, the flavors were full and complex. The chicken skin was one of the best I’ve ever had. Not greasy at all and so crispy. The yuca thickend broth reminded me of a sticky brodo I had in a restaurant in Australia years ago. So good I only stopped to take a picture of my last bite…
And finally desert by another chef from Mini-Mal, Antonuela Ariza. A trio of desserts were presented on a wooden sushi dish and included yuca cookies, yuca caviar (tapioca pearls) flavored with camu camu (an amazonian berry), enyucado (a traditional yuca-based dessert from the Colombian coast), and some yuca ice cream made with pureed yuca. I could have eaten a lot more of this dessert but I was so full at this point that I could barely manage. I was so pleased with the quality of the food and the explanations given by the chefs regarding how they decided on their dish and what inspired them.
At the end of the night I was completely content, as they say here in Colombia “Barriga llena, corazón contento” (Full belly, happy heart!). I learned so much and ate so well – I hope to become more involved in Slow Food here and make sure that events like this happen more often and that they get more exposure.
I bet most people – even most Colombians – don’t know that there are hundreds of varieties of yuca and that the most poisnonous varieties are bitter and contain traces of cyanide and that’s why they are planted around the sweeter varieties to protect them from pests. I bet most Colombians don’t even know how versatile our humble little yuca is, or can be…if you’ve only ever eaten yuca fried or boiled, you simply haven’t lived.
Thanks, Slow Food. I’m ready for the next event and I promise it won’t take me 5 months to write about it.