After 4 years of Menu Panama, the Panamanians started to salivate in January, waiting for the 2018 edition of the gastronomic fair. Menu Panama was created by Mario Castrellón, undoubtedly the most international of our chefs. His restaurant Maito, is the only Panamanian included in the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017. In its first edition, Menu Panama brought together chefs of fondas (street stalls) with high-flying local chefs, to create new dishes. Since then what has marked the festival is that playful and innovative spirit, which normally seeks to see with different eyes the food or traditions that perhaps we overlook (a wink to peruvian Chef Gastón Acurio, no doubt). The other driving force behind the event is Jorge Chanis, a great promoter of Panamanian cuisine and a successful blogger.
If you happen to fall into this article seeking to know more about our Casco Viejo, you probably already know that it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. At the end of 2017, UNESCO has also named the city of Panama the Creative City of Gastronomy and with this Panama becomes the first Central American city that is part of the Creative Cities Network, which includes 64 cities from 44 countries. The first editions of Menu Panama were held in the Amador Causeway, but before the new designation, it had all the sense of the world to come to the Casco to try new territories.
Could we consider an incursion into new territories to talk about women in the kitchen? Although difficult to believe, yes!
This year, female participation is particularly interesting. We have the sommelier Laura Espinosa, who works with her mother, the renowned chef Leonor Espinosa, at the Leo restaurant in Bogotá. Laura is known for her non-traditional pairings, part of a world trend that understands that beyond wines, other drinks are also capable of exalting a dish. Laura works from drinks from ancestral communities, using herbs, roots and ferments.
From Chile came Carolina Bazán and Rosario Onetto, respectively chef and sommelier of the Ambrosia restaurant in Santiago de Chile. The Peruvian Malena Martínez is the sister of Virgilio Martínez, chef of the widely awarded Peruvian restaurant Central, second in 2017 in the list of the best in Latin America (and winner of the first place in 3 consecutive editions: 2014, 2015 and 2016). Malena researches in the hands of anthropologists, biologists and entomologists in Mater Initiative, project of the Central restaurant that aims to locate, document and take advantage of the raw material that is traditionally used by native peoples and that are unknown to current chefs.
These women are really taking the kitchen to another level, and during Menu Panama they were inspired by other women, those of the CAPTA Program of the Calicanto Foundation. The program was created to train and professionalize Casco women, and thus assist them in achieving economic independence that helps them out of poverty. A few days ago they just opened a small inn called La Sexta in fifth street, Casco Viejo, which will serve as a practice to venture into their own business. Some of Menu Panama events took place at La Sexta, following the tradition of the festival to help less professional chefs get in contact with those who are at the forefront of the world.
Of course those are the contacts that create the tastiest results and the reason why we love having Menu Panama in El Casco.