Colombians have an appetite for “theme” dining. They celebrate food, family atmosphere, fond memories of the excursion to Orlando with its strip malls and the ethno-adventure of a Wolfgang Puck burger.
In the 1990s big U.S. names in the restaurant industry began to look south and internationalize their offerings in Bogotá. Part cultural integration, part good business sense, establishments such as Hard Rock Cafe, Pizza Hut and Hooters opened their doors in the capital. For Bogotanos, these restaurants standardized slow “fast food” with deep pan pizza, Buffalo-style chicken wings, shakes and burgers. Gone were the days of improvisation and clones. When McDonald’s opened their first venue customers were thrilled at the promise of the quality Mc meal.
Colombians enjoy “gringo” culture – and with a rich local gastronomy scene – are willing to pay a premium to have their BBQ ribs served by a waitress dressed in hot orange shorts. The novelty of theme/chain restaurants in Bogotá has been accompanied in recent years by other international franchises such as Papa John’s and T.G.I Friday’s. Now P.F. Chang’s China Bistro turns up the heat with its Chinese kitchen.
Opening this week in a three tier house near the Zona Rosa, P.F. Chang’s arrives as a franchise of Alsea Group, one of the largest food chains in South America and current operators of Domino’s Pizza and Burger King in Bogotá.
Founded two decades ago by artist turned entrepreneur Philip Chiang, this formal dining chain has grown the world over to include 238 restaurants (Bahrain launches this week). As the goodwill Ambassador and culinary consultant to his food corporation, Philip Chiang rolled out the red carpet treatment with P.Chang’s much praised menu, which includes a perfect Bogotá weather Wonton soup, steamed Dumplings and spicy Dynamite Shrimp.
While some chain restaurants put gimmicks over gastronomy, the arrival of P.F Chang’s looks to shake up the dining scene in Bogotá. The founder takes great pride in presenting his all-Chinese cuisine, respecting traditional cooking techniques with hot woks, family recipes handed down from generation to generation and an attention to the highest quality ingredients.
Admitting never to have had formal training as a chef, Philip Chiang, charts a global enterprise thanks to his ability to present the regional diversity of Chinese cuisine in a carefully thought-out and simple way. “When we say simple,” states Chiang “we can mean a lot of things.”
Chiang got to know Chinese cooking thanks to the hours spent in his mother’s kitchen at The Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco. While studying Fine Arts at the Art Center College of Design in Los Ángeles, Philip became even more passionate about Chinese food – its versatility and diversity – when he was put in charge of the “trendy” and still family-run The Mandarette in West Hollywood.
The success of The Mandarette attracted clients from across Los Angeles, including the “regular” Paul Fleming, who as owner of Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Beverly Hills saw potential in Chiang’s take on Chinese. A friendship between the two men resulted in a business proposal, and in 1993, P.F. Chang’s opened its first “China Bistro” in Scottdale, Arizona.
Bogotá is P.F Chang’s restaurant No.237 and the largest in South America. The restaurant can seat some 300 guests and counts with the same menú as all the other venues across the world. For Chiang, part of their success are dishes with “staying power,” such as the best-selling Chicken Lettuce Wraps and their take on Mongolian Beef.
Bogotá clients may also rest assured that no MSG is used in the food and that all dishes in keeping with Chinese tradition, are prepared fresh in their kitchen, every day. For the owner it’s about maintaining very high standards “matched in every location.”
In Bogotá, the Asian connection has come down to expensive sushi, questionable Chinese “take away” and the very Thai influenced menu of the city’s many WOKs. So welcome P.F Chang’s China Bistro to expanding this city’s culturally-oriented cuisine, and the experience of enjoying a Far East menu high in the Andes.
Carrera 9 No. 82-19