Chef Daniel Morgan finds Colombia a “magical place” for culinary inspiration

The celebrated British chef Daniel Morgan is a wandering soul having worked in some of the most refined kitchens of the world, and last month, found himself in Bogotá exploring the capital’s foodie scene – from street to market. As a native of industrial Sheffield, Morgan spent a decade working among London’s finest – Maze, The Square and Sketch – and now finds himself cooking up a culinary storm at Salt, a seafood restaurant in the 11th Arrondissement of Paris.

Voted Best English Chef in Paris in 2016, Morgan’s culinary resumé includes three restaurants that have made the Top 10 such as Noma in Copenhaguen, Frantzén in Stockholm, Narisawa in Tokyo. The City Paper met up with the roving chef to ask him questions about why he came to Colombia, and how this visit will resonate, hopefully, in his creative dishes.

1. The City Paper TCP: Where have you traveled in Colombia and what are your favorite places?

Daniel Morgan DM: I have been fortunate enough to visit the Sierra Nevada and the beach at Palomino. This was during my first week of coming here. A mini paradise in its own right. Beautiful rivers that descend from glaciers through the jungle and marry with the quite forceful ocean.

I stayed in a retreat called Reserva One Love, owned by Allan Kassin, and we organized an exchange stay/ residency, teaching and learning with the kitchen team. It’s hidden away up a dirt track, where the Kogí indigenous peoples travel by foot and on mules. You approach a tropical paradise running beside the Palomino River. With its huge open kitchen, I sampled coca leaves, cacao, coconut and Allan’s amazing garden-grown herbs. I was truly blown away by the versatility of these ingredients. Cooking over open fire through the evening, it was a pleasure to discover and create. I really want to go carnival in Barranquilla. That’s the top of my list.

TCP: How will your experiences in Colombia influence your cooking?

DM: Working with Colombian cooks will definitely influence my kitchen, keeping a joyous vibe. Also, it would be a crime not to mention the great music I hear all day here: cumbia, salsa, vallenato, champeta. I think it will soften the seriousness of my cuisine, and add a lighter “sunshine” side.

TCP: Is there one dish that sums up your Colombian adventure?

DM: Arepa it has to be. This golden pocket of buttery maize, is the one thing that is just about served everywhere and eaten at any time of day, and it’s amazing to see how many different variations of it there are. I could eat them constantly, as they really remind me of pikelets!

TCP: Will any of the dishes you discovered in Colombia be making their way onto your restaurant menus in Paris and Berlin?

DM: There are some techniques we have developed that I will take back with me. Cooking octopus in chicha morada, is wonderful – I can imagine recreating this with a berry mead. Naturally dehydrated yellow tomatoes that are then macerated in a passionfruit vinaigrette and served with a smoky fermented Canandonga oil.

I think that a lot of the dishes I have created here, so far, would not translate without Colombian ingredients. The fruits, seafood and meats are very different in a wonderful way.

TCP: What essential Colombian ingredients that you can’t get in Paris, would you take back?

DM: Tropical fruits we can get, but they just don’t shine like they do here. Passion fruit, feijoa, coconuts, lulo, curuba, starfruit and so many more, that are grown in this country, are purely magical.

TCP: What restaurants have you been to in Bogotá, and how do you rate them?

DM: I haven’t had a chance to visit a lot of restaurants in Bogotá, but I have sampled a few very good dishes at El Chato. The chef there is very creative. The tacos at Cantina y Punto were excellent, but I’d say the best thing I’ve eaten would be a pastille de yucca, in a small hole in the wall, near the National Park! Two Colombian ladies with a small stove and three seats at a bar in the street alongside the stray dog’s shelter was mind blowing.

TCP: What will you be cooking at the Dali Surreal feast to be held in Cafe Bar Universal on May 23?

DM: We have an idea to make a grand feast for the eyes, a real turn of the century tails and ties event. Think whole suckling pigs stuffed with langoustines. Giant stuffed snail shells filled with chorizo and tapioca risotto. Whole giant stone bass deboned and barbecued and rolled back in its fried crispy scales. Dali believed in textures and discovering the ingredients through layers of disguises, I think we will run along the same idea.

TCP: What are the current crazes in the Parisian restaurant circuit?

DM: Natural wine has been a very Parisian and French idea since the late 80’s, but now the natural wine bars are the most exciting thing to discover in the city.

There are some jewels to be found and made easy by new applications like Raisin, where you can search for natural wine bars through a map of the city’s restaurants and bars.

Editor’s note: Daniel Morgan will be participating May 23 in Café Bar Universal (Calle 65 No.4A-76) with “Les Diners de Gala”.