For Leonor Espinosa, cooking is about much more than food. In her youth, the trailblazing Colombian chef studied economics and fine arts, then landed a job as an advertising executive. Although she soon realised that this line of work couldn’t satisfy her creative spirit, she never stopped practising the arts and studying the economy – she simply began to do so through a gastronomic lens.
After teaching herself how to cook, Espinosa opened her restaurant, Leo, in Bogotá in 2007. Her concept for the restaurant was based on finding innovative ways to incorporate little-used biological species into a new kind of modern Colombian cuisine. Thirteen years later, the idea has stood the test of time, as Leo has been voted into seven editions of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants to date and became the first Colombian venue to break into The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2019.
The year after creating Leo, Espinosa joined forces with her daughter Laura Hernández-Espinosa to create the non-profit FunLeo. With Hernández-Espinosa – a graduate in development studies and qualified sommelier – as director of the foundation, the mother-and-daughter team unearthed a new paradigm for their gastronomy. The secrets of the indigenous ingredients and ancestral techniques that were providing inspiration for Leo’s menus were preserved by Colombia’s ethnic communities, and FunLeo was the answer to their desire to support these communities.
Today, FunLeo continues to identify, reclaim and promote the culinary traditions of rural and ethnic communities while simultaneously promoting their wellbeing and health, with programmes that enhance the use of autochthonous ingredients across the country and empower the groups towards food sovereignty. On Leo’s menu, the project manifests itself as a map showing where each ingredient comes from: lemon ants and mojojoy worms from the humid forests; longfin tuna from the ocean, and cariaco corn from the desert are among the ingredients used by Espinosa and her team.
With a strong sense of social responsibility and a humble attitude, Espinosa has become a reference for her peers in Latin America and beyond. As she is recognised with the Estrella Damm Chefs’ Choice Award 2020 – the only accolade voted for by the chefs in the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list – the Colombian chef is preparing to relocate Leo in early 2021 for what will surely be another inspiring chapter of her life and career.
Get to know Leonor Espinosa in five career-defining quotes and watch the video:
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