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Colombia’s Gastronomical Revolution

By Ramona Flume

Chef Joseph Romero is running a circus in Colombia. But don’t start imagining big red tents or elephants twirling Hula-Hoops, even though what he’s named “the gastronomical circus” might seem just as bizarre.

Romero, a classically trained chef from Spain, creates 10-course gourmet meals for $10 USD out of his kitchen at Buddha Hostel, an unassuming guesthouse in Medellin, Colombia. It’s a strange and wonderful paradox for budget travelers and weary nomads: culinary excellence that’s astonishingly affordable.

“Just because you’re on a budget, doesn’t mean you have to eat bad food,” Romero says. “You could say that’s the philosophy of the whole circus.”

After spending 25 years working under Michelin-starred chefs in his native Barcelona, Romero left his life in fine dining to share his passion for gourmet cuisine sans high prices and bourgeois pretensions.

“We wanted to change the perception of the ‘backpacker’ world,” Romero says, “by bringing supreme gastronomy to travelers who would appreciate it but couldn’t normally afford it.”
And travelers have taken note.

Romero’s food has garnered devotees throughout South America over the past few years, and the only thing more irresistible than his food is his personality. During dinner, he blurs into a billowing white chef’s coat, racing between the kitchen and the table, fervently explaining the subtle flavors of each dish to his mesmerized patrons.

“I think my excitement rubs off on people,” Romero remarks. “I just want to show them what good food is, and I think that makes them happy. Some people stay in the kitchen and watch me cook. I love that, and I always give my recipes to anyone who asks.”

Aside from the amazing value of the 10-course meal, the dinner also provides travelers with unique cultural insight. Romero’s dishes only feature local and organic ingredients, so travelers experience the entire culinary range of the region they’re visiting, whether it be freshly caught lobster and tiger prawns from the coast or succulent guayabas (guavas) found in Colombia’s interior jungles.

Some travelers have even altered their trip’s itinerary for the unique experience. One young French couple traveling outside of Santa Marta postponed their return home to enjoy the cuisine … for a third time. “We were just so excited about what he’s doing down here,” they recall. “It’s infectious. It’s more of a revolution than a circus.”

Photos by Boris Henriot

  • Boris

    Thanks for the photo mention :)

    • JasonZGuest

      Always, Boris. Glad that you could be a part of this. All the best! -The Centro Y Sur team.