Leonor Espinosa, a Colombian plastic artist and activist, is first and foremost internationally known through her work as a chef. In recent years she has received several prizes and awards for her work, including Latin America’s Best Female Chef 2017 and, just a few weeks ago, her restaurant Leo earned a place on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019.
Born 1963 in Cartago, Colombia, Espinosa spent most of her childhood and youth in Cartagena de Indias as well as in other parts of the Colombian Caribbean. In her cooking, she applies her life experiences and everything she has learned on her journeys.
To her, food is a channel of expression for her art, aesthetically represented in her dishes and on the menu of her restaurant Leo in Bogotá. In addition to its artistic value, her work also has a strong ethical component as well as a social commitment towards the isolated rural communities in the Colombian Pacific – communities which have often been affected by the long armed conflict in the country.
Using local ingredients and native produce and working with women from the aforementioned communities, the FUNLEO foundation, created 11 years ago, seeks to visualize and promote the culinary and agricultural wealth from these often marginalized Colombian communities.
C&AL: Part of your professional education was in art. Can you talk about the relationship you have created between food and art?
Leonor Espinosa: Contemporary artists express sensitive visions of the world – real or imaginary – through the use of plastic, audible or linguistic elements. Thus, the world(s) are narrated in realities with alternative perspectives, that try to resolve or propose solutions to conflicts or break with traditional language. After visiting art school for the second time, I began to apply that same concept to food and it gave me the idea to base my proposal on research, observation and experimentation, not only of culinary memory, but also of biocultural plentitude. My objective is to transcend the act of cooking by working from a place of multiplicity and adding value through culinary initiatives in communities in vulnerable territories with social and economic problems.
C&AL: What do art and food have in common? At what point do they diverge or what sets them apart as a discipline on one hand and as the object of handicraft on the other?
LE: Cooking involves aspects of physics, engineering, mechanics, anatomy and biology. Art on the other hand is observed more in the mixture of ingredients, colors, textures and flavors; that is, in the beautification of food in terms of form and content. In this sense, gastronomy transcends the limits of the cooking profession, and its objective goes beyond the mastery of a technique and can even become a transforming axis of society. This approach involves other disciplines such as anthropology, history and geography, and shows us that there are no diverging points but rather meetings and crossings. One way to understand the connection between cuisine, gastronomy and art is through science.