With 51,330 species spread across Colombia, the world’s second-most biodiverse country creates an immense pantry for chef Leo Espinosa and her fellow citizens – of which there are 87 ethnic groups speaking 65 languages – to draw from. Given their passion to identify and strengthen this diverse heritage, in 2008 Leo and daughter Laura Hernández-Espinosa – who together lead LEO Restaurante in Bogotá – set up FunLeo, a socio-environmental foundation that revives ancestral gastronomical knowledge in these often-rural Colombian communities. FunLeo has supported more than a dozen food-based initiatives, such as creating the Providencia Black Crab Route and gastronomy labs for children on the island of Barú.
Fresh from winning 2017’s Basque Culinary World Prize, in 2018 FunLeo helped open Zotea Integral Culinary Centre in Coquí, a community in the Chocó region in the Colombian Pacific. A multi-function space that’s part restaurant, part greenhouse that cultivates vegetables and medicinal herbs, and part production centre, Zotea boosts the community through what they know best: Colombian-Pacific food. One enterprise harvests organic coconuts to produce cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil while at a Zotea cooking workshop, visitors might learn to prepare apachina (a tuber), manioc and banana tamales. All ingredients are grown by the community or sourced locally.
Members of the Coquí community not only improve their nutrition, health, quality of life and incomes through Zotea’s ventures but are also sustainably empowered, becoming entrepreneurs through their own culinary traditions.
Leo Espinosa, chef