Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Backpackers Gastronomic Food Revolution

Backpackers Gastronomical Revolution
On the travellers trail of South America there is a rumour. If you pay close enough attention or ask the right questions you may hear the faintest whisper about it. If you are a lover of food or a new experience then it will sound like food Nirvana. We picked up its scent twice, once in Ecuador and then in Bogota, Colombia. Our hopes of finding it were dashed somewhat although the new information spoke of it being back on the move and that maybe it was in Santa Marta. 

I am referring to the Backpackers Gastronomical Revolution of course. Although the name may appeal it is not likely you have heard of it. Its philosophy however will make perfect sense. When its genius hits you two things will become instantly clear. The first is that you want to be a part of it, savour its courses and tell the world. The second is that it is an overdue simple solution to a problem that all backpackers have experienced. 

This is a problem that was not be endured by a man named Joseph Romero. Romero means rosemary in English and food it seems was always to be his destiny. Both his Mum and his Uncle are 3 star Michelin chefs but this alone he tells us does not make him a good chef. This comes from a passion that is both great to see and a joy to eat. The problem Joseph was having was that there is just not enough decent food to eat when you are traveling on a budget. It was clear that plenty of other travelers were having the same problem so Joseph began thinking of a solution. 

With more than enough talent and enthusiasm to save backpackers from poor cuisine Joseph began something that really is a revelation. He is not a man driven by money he just wants to be happy and share this joy with others through his food. He used to work in the high brow restaurants of Europe but changed his outlook fours years ago and decided to pack it all in and go traveling with his son Mikail. This path led to phenomenon that is the Backpackers Gastronomical Revolution. 

The cuisine is ingredient driven and here in the Caribbean the fruit is really the star of the show. Whether it is a perfect avocado, the unbelievable taste of the banana apple or the blockbuster tree tomato. Joseph believes in food for well being as well as pleasure and it is great to see flavour and health next to each other on the plate. Our first plate of Mango and apple guineo nanaito salad, served with a cold tomato and veggies soup had all the vitamins, fibre and minerals that the body needs. 

Most of the dishes are his own interpretation of local or national food. To have incredible traditional local food with a modern twist at this price is a real cultural treat for the mind and the palate. Every ingredient is locally sourced, organic or wild. The fish we ate was harpooned this morning as he does not believe in trawling due to its harmful impact on the ocean. I do not believe in trawling either but I do believe in a man who's ethics are as great as his food.

It really feels like you are just eating at home in the quaint setting of a small hostel. We have a table cloth and a candle but it is all rather pleasant instead of pretentious. It was so inspiring to see such great food cooked with the most simple equipment. The blunt knifes slide rather than slice and they have a maximum of two weak gas hobs when hostel guests do not decide to use it in the middle of dinner. This is all a mild inconvenience to a calm and extremely competent chef who is determined to see backpackers eat gourmet food. 

We are all finding it hard to believe this is not just a dream as we sit in the middle of a whirlwind of plates and flavours. That is not to say you are rushed, you can asked for more time if you need it and Joseph could well be asking you if he could have a small cigarette break. I imagine anyone would find it hard to refuse this warm and charming man anything let alone when he is in the middle of cooking you one of the best meals you have ever eaten. When questioned he is quite open and assures us that all of the techniques he uses are quite simple. On request he will publish each and every recipe on his website. 

You almost get a new piece of cooking wisdom with each new dish. We learnt that great chefs differ from the good in that they can make you taste each and every ingredient. If this is not the case then he assures us he has made an error. This never happened, far from it in fact as the wonderfully different but complimentary flavours all played their part in the ensemble in our mouths. Black pepper is used in moderation on every dish as it opens up the pores of the food we are told. His dedication and belief in pepper reinforce mine and my brothers own eternal craving for it.
I will not try to describe each course as I have eaten 3 dinners now and a breakfast, which is over 40 courses! There are links to the menus below. Every course had its merit but for me the tomato with tangerine sauce and the beef tartar were mind blowing. 

Like all good things my time of eating Joseph's food has come to the end for now but as I slurped the last bit of passion fruit and raspberry salsa of my dessert plate I began to contemplate the man who brought me so many new flavours and so much pleasure. At that very moment he grabs a guitar and makes it sing not unlike like his courses. I can not help but think that a food revolution could not hope for a better ambassador. I for one feel privileged to be apart of it and implore you seek him out and support. You will be thanking both me for the recommendation and him for bringing you some of the best food you will have on your whole trip. 

If we really are what we eat then surely the whole world would be a nicer place if everyone dined with Joseph Romero. 

Viva la revolution!

Below are links to a couple of the menus we enjoyed and a link for any travellers hoping to find Joseph and his divine food;

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