Nuema, Ecuador’s Culinary Jewel

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The world craves the flavors, ingredients, and culinary traditions of Latin American cuisine… we have no doubt about that. Proof of it is William Reed’s ‘Latin America’s 50 Best’ which every year announces the finest restaurants in the region. Two-hundred-fifty culinary experts from throughout Latin America have voted. And the verdict is…

In a deeply challenging year for the restaurant industry, Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020 revealed its ranking (virtually), and this time around it came with a huge surprise: Nuema appeared on the list. An Ecuadorian restaurant, for the very first time in history. Years have come and gone and our country had never before been considered… times are certainly a’changing!

Nuema, Ecuador’s culinary jewel

Growing, transforming, evolving… these notions have been a constant in Nuema, and today Latin American food critics and connoisseurs applaud and recognize the effort. An ‘evolutionary’ cuisine, home to an iconic tasting menu in Quito, Nuema’s menu draws from the culinary avant-garde to highlight the best of Ecuadorian seasonal ingredients.

Mangrove crab with Ecuadorian ‘Dominico’ green plantains and lantana flowers… one of Nuema’s many innovative dishes (PH: Luis Sánchez).

The restaurant was born in 2014 as chefs Alejandro Chamorro and Pía Salazar’s family venture, based on two fundamental pillars: Alejandro’s main courses and Pía’s desserts.

What was clear from the beginning was a common vocation to create a tasting experience that could elevate local products to new heights. The location is also part of the charm, without a doubt, in the beautiful traditional San Marcos neighborhood in the old town.

Dynamic and small-scale, Nuema is quite the opposite of the traditional large, fancy restaurant with an extensive cooking staff. Here, an effective, experienced team, a cozy atmosphere in a unique Quito neighborhood, and a philosophy of details and intimate experiences has taken giant leaps from humble beginnings to being considered among the fifty kitchens to look out for in 2020
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A bit of history

Alejandro Chamorro began his culinary education in Quito under Gastón Acurio, at Astrid & Gastón, a well-reputed Peruvian restaurant in the capital. After traveling to Peru — passing through several restaurants of the Acurio brand — he ventured to Denmark to join the Noma staff. At Noma, a transformation in concept seeped in; a new culinary vision that has taken ‘Alejo’ in search of the always elusive desire to unite concept, balance, and aesthetics.

Pia Salazar, on the other hand, is a pastry chef trained in Mexico at the Ambrosía Culinary Center. She was Head Pastry Chef at Astrid & Gastón. In Lima, she worked for Astrid Gutsche, during which period she bolstered her great technical skills in high-level pastry cuisine.

Alejandro Chamorro and Pía Salazar from Nuema Restaurante in old town Quito (PH: Luis Sánchez)

The rest is history. The combination and training of both chefs have sent a shockwave through the world during these trying times, changing the culinary history of a country, from one without any true international culinary references to a name that has begun to attract the world’s attention in a big way. Something has changed today with Nuema and we hope that, soon, a trend will follow and be heeded by the many culinary projects that are budding throughout the country.

Honorable mentions for positive impact

But that’s not all. Seeking to highlight diversity and positive impact within the culinary scene, as well as support recovery during the pandemic, ’50 Best’ presented, for the first time, its new “Spirit of Latin America” category, wishing to acknowledge restaurants as ‘local heroes’ that give back to their communities through sustainable cuisine.

David Contreras from Dos Sucres (Cuenca) choosing locally grown vegetables (PH: Juan Pablo Merchán).

These were the restaurants that made the Spirit of Latin America list for Ecuador:

SALNÉS (QUITO)

Recipes such as this Paiche Picante with Tomatoes and Amazonian Peanuts is a classic example of Salnés visionary take on Ecuadorian cuisine (PH: Felipe Egas).

This traditional picantería dive converted into a culinary display of both tradition and innovation, presided by the well-reputed chef Mauricio Acuña. The essence of this restaurant was born over 40 years ago in the Historic District of Quito, created by Mauricio’s grandmother, who opened a food store that her mother managed for many years, passed on to Mauricio to become what it is today: a dive with high cultural value and 100% Ecuadorian products.

Mauricio learned about food within his family business. He set off to study cuisine abroad at the hospitality school in Seville, Spain. During an extensive foray in Europe as chef for Martín Berasategui, the Bulli Hotel, and the Règalade in Paris (among others), Mauricio returned to Ecuador to take over his mother’s restaurant. His idea was to create a cuisine based on local produce and help bring about Ecuador’s culinary revolution.

With several ambitious projects such as Latitud Cero, a ten-year-old culinary festival celebrating traditional food; #UNIQUE, a training/education grant program for young farmers, and Artesanos del Sabor (Artisans of Flavor), a business network of producers that focuses on fair trade and quality products sourced locally, Salnés has become one of the most active and dynamic culinary enterprises in the country.

DOS SUCRES (CUENCA)

“Dos Sucres Comedor Ecuatoriano” opened its doors on February 7, 2015. One could say chef Daniel Contreras’  true labor of love has finally paid off and made his dream come true: become a professional chef and own his own restaurant. The idea behind Dos Sucres is adapting traditional cuisine to the modern table, working only with local, agroecological, and organic products (when possible).

The name comes from our old currency, the ‘sucre’: back then, market purchases were based on 1 sucre: 1 sucre of potatoes, 1 sucre of corn, etc. When you add experience and culinary evolution, you get the necessary added value: “Dos Sucres”.

The “Latin Heart”: Zhima maize, endemic cherimoya, and agave capers, a Dos Sucres delicacy (PH: Juan Pablo Merchán).

There are several Dos Sucres projects that deserve mention. For five years now Microgreens has been selling seedlings for planting, shoots, and vegetables. At the restaurant, also find Mercadito de Agricultores, which sells fresh local produce and helps small-scale farmers; the Family Basket offers healthy vegetables for all; in addition to an important fresh produce portfolio for restaurants in order to improve the quality of the food in Cuenca.

ANKER (QUITO)

Anker by Urko was born in Galapagos in 2017, but during the pandemic, the project moved to Quito. The restaurant, led by chef Daniel Maldonado, centers on a conscious and casual cuisine using local produce and encouraging community collaboration and sustainability.

The delicious Jipijapa Ceviche, Anker style (PH: Óscar Pazmiño)

Anker’s projects seek alliances with small businesses —in addition to creating a collaboration schedule that supports and makes these businesses visible— to generate a line of products that take advantage of the fruit and vegetables that people don’t buy in stores, giving them a new use and thus avoiding waste. Anker is also part of the La Floresta collective, supporting the neighborhood’s initiatives.

MUYU (SAN CRISTÓBAL ISLAND)

As every Galapagos colonizer has said at some point in their life, “there’s just no simple way about things here”. Especially when the project focuses exclusively on locally sourced ingredients, such a complex endeavor in volcanic islands such as these. Muyu has turned these challenges into an intrinsic part of its philosophy, creating a profoundly innovative culinary ‘laboratory’ in a world where conservation and eco-friendly practices are critical. Muyu’s team has created a powerful, pioneering vision of the future for the islands, focused on its ‘school/restaurant’ set to really make a difference.

Creamy rice, braised pumpkin, cured wahoo, sprouts, flowers… food in the Galapagos is also evolving (photo: Paulo Rivas Peña).

Muyu offers fresh seasonal ingredients—fruits, shoots, flowers—gathered the same day, as well as fresh fish… with a series of environmentally-minded practices that include the restaurant’s architecture, created in conjunction with the Galapagos Foundation. Its ’farm/laboratory’, urban vegetable gardens, and study and elaboration of probiotics are just some of the restaurant’s ongoing ventures.

In addition to creating a recuperation program for the community during the pandemic, Muyu also became a Zero Waste restaurant… an outstanding example of what can be done with effort and a clear-cut, honest philosophy… no matter where you propose to carry it out.

Muyu’s team in the kitchen, a labor of love in the name of good food, the environment, and society (PH: Paulo Rivas Peña).

All the restaurants on this list are musts. They truly make a case for the power and reach of food. Food unites us all through creativity, true dedication, and great flavor; it strengthens our communities and promotes our country throughout the world.

So, if you don’t know what’s cooking in Ecuador’s burgeoning culinary scene… now you now know!

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