Header: Nicolás López (left) and Sergio Meza at #50BestTalks
In the constantly evolving world of fine dining, two Latin American chefs are going a step further in breaking away from tradition, with colourful cartoon marketing, a no-menu policy and a playful cuisine that sees pineapple served as a savoury course and cauliflower transformed into dessert.
At Villanos en Bermudas in Bogotá, chefs Sergio Meza and Nicolás López serve a unique menu using simple ingredients, with a view to changing the minds of customers who believe that the best is always the most expensive. Meza and López spoke at "#50BestTalks Latin America: united by food" about using their cooking to challenge preconceptions.
Sergio Meza: Malinchismo, or malinchism, is a Mexican term for when people favour all things foreign to their own. That is the starting point for our discussion.
Nicolás López: People have pre-conceived ideas – we see it a lot with our customers. We don’t have a menu and sometimes we even change what we serve in the middle of the evening because we work with small producers and use whatever they bring us. Sometimes customers say they don’t like a dish without even trying it. We want to change the way people look down on ‘simple’ foods so that they don’t judge a product until they’ve tried it.
SM: We believe that bread is a crucial part of a meal, which counts as a dish in its own right. We serve bread as a dish with black garlic butter. Everyone knows that caviar is always good, but if we can surprise people with a piece of bread, we can create something more fun.
NL: In reality, we are not looking for crazy things. 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 things 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.
SM: Unfortunately, not everyone shares the same view. There are people who want to post on Instagram that they’ve eaten a kilo of caviar, so we want to create a certain discomfort. Part of the conversation is about making it fun and showing that we can surprise people with just the basic food basket.
NL: We have reached the conclusion that all products are luxuries. Luxury is about understanding a product and what to pair it with; it’s about looking for new things and not concentrating on price. Cooking should be accessible by the majority and it’s important that everyday ingredients can be brought to new levels.
Squash filled with Jerusalem artichoke ice cream, white chocolate and green apple at Villanos en Bermudas
NL: Because we are not Colombians – I am Argentine and Sergio is Mexican – we have a different perspective on the everyday ingredients of this country. We haven’t been eating it since we were little so we are constantly amazed by the fruit here and 80% of our dishes contain some kind of fruit.
SM: True luxury is in the product itself, in how you prepare it, not in how much it costs. We believe all ingredients have the same gastronomic value.
NL: We don’t concentrate solely on cooking. Instagram and Facebook are very important for what we are trying to communicate. We put a lot of focus on design because we believe communication is fundamental and we want to do it in the best way possible.
SM: We are not structured as a conventional restaurant. We want people to enjoy themselves and we are trying to communicate that. Our mentality is that the mind is like a parachute – it only works if it’s open. If you turn up with the mentality of expecting fine dining with 60 waiters and gold cutlery, Villanos is definitely not the place for you. We’re trying to show Colombia through our eyes and we try to present it in a way that people will enjoy.
Watch López and Meza's full speech at #50BestTalks:
Now watch Michelangelo Cestari and Malena Martínez’s speeches at "#50BestTalks Latin America: united by food":
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