I grew up in my mom's kitchen, learning all of her Haitian recipes. After a long while, I realized the learning process was passive. I was learning how to make the dishes but did I know the history of the dish? Could I say why we made this version versus another version? Sadly no. At the time there was not a real exposure to understanding the importance of a dish, it was simply this is how it's done. This is what we eat.
Yet, I could tell you that on Thanksgiving, us Americans made turkey and the reasons behind it. I could recite the entire story of the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock and their first Thanksgiving. Most importantly I knew that turkey had to be cooked whole and stuffed properly. Additionally, it had to be accompanied with mashed potatoes and gravy. Don't you dare forget the Apple pie, Pumpkin pie, whip cream and cranberry sauce of course.
As I grew older, I did eventually learn the history of many of my favorite Haitian dishes. I learned that Soup Joumou (Squash Soup) was made in every Haitian household on New Years Day to celebrate our Independence Day. I learned that our traditional Easter dish consisted of white rice, fried fish, red sauce and a white bean sauce (yes, 2 different types of sauces). The poor man's drink was my favorite Jus Citron (lime juice). Why poor man's drink you ask? It simply consists of lime, water and sugar; staples you can find in the home of all Haitians. Although I do throw in some Vanilla or Almond essence in mine.
In my quest to travel to each continent, I took my love of learning local cuisine to every country I traveled. One, I had to eat, why not learn something in the process? Two, culinary courses were a great way to practice my language skills. Three, I made it my mission to learn the authentic recipe before I made it my own. These classes also allowed me to learn different cooking methods and new ways to adapt them to my way of cooking. In Senegal, I learned how to make Thieboudiene and Thiebou Yapp, with the latter being my favorite. I also learned that mustard could be used for more than just my hot dog. In Argentina, I learned how to make empanadas at Marcelo Kulish's Espace Azai. Marcelo also picked up on my love for spicy sauces and provided a taste test of the various spicy sauces in his cupboard. We also went through a history of other South American cuisines that were similar to what we had made that day.
It is in this same vein that I crafted our Bogota Foodie Tour. Colombia, itself is an up and coming tourist spot with major tourist spots in Cartagena and Bogota. The country is a major exporter of coffee beans to US brands like Starbucks. Another great way to experience Colombian coffee in the States is at a Juan Valdez. Not only is Juan Valdez a fictional character that is the face of Colombia's coffee exports but it is also a coffee shop with several US locations. Let's not forget this country straddles both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, with various regional dishes in addition to what I call the heart-stopping national dish of Ajiaco. Lastly, all good meals come accompanied with a drink, why not down your meal with beer from Colombia's, burgeoning craft beer industry? So why not take a foodie tour of Bogota this new year?
What do you have to lose?
Juan Valdez (locations in DC, NJ, NY and FL)