Daniel Kaplan is one of a growing number of Colombian chefs taking initiatives that allow farmers to become more integrated in the food chain. By promoting products from specific farms, entire communities are connecting with Bogotá as a culinary capital. Representing the Takami restaurant group, Kaplan joins Tomás Rueda, Leo Espinosa, Harry Sasson, Alejandro Gutiérrez and Eduardo Martínez, to name a few, as celebrated Bogotá chefs who are putting “origin” into dishes.
“Colombia is living an historical moment in which inclusion and reconciliation go hand in hand,” says Juliana Lugo, sustainability coordinator of the Takami group. “Colombia prides itself for its agriculture, however, it has reached only half of its po- tential in terms of its productivity.” According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 70% of food from Colombia is cultivated by small-scale farmers. “It is a huge step for the peace process to work in this country. If our farmers don’t have help, then, there can be no social responsibility, so what are they going to do?” asks Kaplan, head chef of the Bogota-based Ugly American and La Fama restaurants.
Takami’s sustainability department works closely with its chefs to find products that are socially and agriculturally responsible. “We are trying to be as ecological as possible, wanting to know where our vegetables are growing and how they are brought to us,” claims Kaplan. “We want to make sure that the money we give farmers doesn’t go to a third party.”
Engagement at a local level is just one way service-focused companies can help farmers showcase their products, especially as a post-conflict presents new opportunities to reach markets after decades of insecurity on roads, lack of infrastructure, and extortion by armed groups. Establishing a connection between growers and consumers has converted Popayán, in the southern department of Cauca, into one of this country’s food hubs, hosting every year a Gastronomic Congress. Accompanying the four-day program is a central market, giving farmers an opportunity to present an amazing array of crops to visiting outsiders.
To help connect the countryside with the urban, the foundation Acción Cultural Popular hosted last October an inaugural event in Bogotá called Campo y Cocina. In association with Fogón Colombia, an association of 19 eco-minded chefs, Campo y Cocina introduced 30 small-scale growers to those who make everyday make the most important decisions: the freshness, salubrity and quality of what we eat.
“We have to buy directly from producers, without intermediaries, so that farmers can begin to shine. This must be our contribution to peace,” believes Harry Sasson, executive chef of the eponymous, award-winning restaurant.
Takami is also involved in projects that help the post-conflict diversify food security with fishing communities.”Through Marviva Foundation, we are commercializing fish that has been harvested or caught with social and environmental friendly practices” remarks Lugo. Takami, owner of Central cevichería, takes pride in their close working relationship with an association of artisan fishermen from the Chocó that goes beyond the commercial to impact the education of youngsters. “If we are going to have a smooth transition to peace, we must get out there,” believes Kaplan. “A restaurant can’t be a chef’s comfort zone.”