Juan Manuel Barrientos, One Of Latin America 50 Best Chefs, Shares Cooking Tips [INTERVIEW]

At only 34 years of age, Juan Manuel Barrientos is already recognized among the 50 best chefs in Latin America by The World's 50 Best San Peregrino listing being the youngest included in the selection, during the years 2013, 2014 and 2015. In addition, he is one of the world's most influential Latin chefs and his long list of clients include Colombian actress Sofía Vergara, singers Maluma, Carlos Vives, Nicky Jam and supermodel Cindy Crawford, just to mention a few.

Born in Medellin, Colombia, Juanma, as he is popularly known, is a philanthropist and entrepreneur who, due to his great contribution to gastronomy and the neediest, was invited by the White House during Barack Obama's government as a panelist of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University in California. And recently he was invited to the Concordia Summit in New York in the framework of the General Assembly of the United Nations along world leaders to represent Latin Americans.

"Creativity, and constantly designing experiences to surprise customers, made me to be recognized on several occasions." Juanma tells Latin Times. "My dishes are experiences that tell stories, I am not afraid to create or make mistakes, the support of my family and having a balance between chef and entrepreneur has differentiated me from others."

Celebrating 10 years of his first restaurant in Colombia, called El Cielo, the Colombian chef receives the great news that his company was chosen as Best Fine Dining Restaurant in Travelers' Choice Tripadvisor 2017; the most important award granted by TripAdvisor that is selected annually from the comments contributed by the millions of members of the same community.

"I founded El Cielo with the same concept of creative food based on Colombian roots 10 years ago," says Barrientos. "But I change the dishes every three months, and that has been our special stamp, which is why every time you visit us you will find everything different." The chef says that around 300 different dishes per year are added to the menu and are never repeated.

His constant innovation aroused the curiosity of many foodies and that's why it's normal to see Sean P. Diddy, Antonio Banderas, William Levy and James Rodriguez having dinner at El Cielo. However there is a particular figure that the chef appreciates the support and has become a great friend. "Seeing Cindy Crawdord was major. She is a spectacular woman in every way, humble, beautiful, good mother, good wife," says Juanma. "We are good friends now. We talked a lot about Colombian rum and tequila, and from there our friendship grew and I was able to visit her in Los Angeles. It was very cool!" The chef also adds that he is looking forward to cook one day for Barack Obama and Marc Anthony.

Chef Juanma El Cielo and Cindy Crawford Chef Juanma El Cielo and supermodel Cindy Crawford. Photo: Courtesy

Juanma has participated as a special guest in one of the most important gastronomic television programs, MasterChef Spain, which is broadcasted on Spanish Television. "I like television a lot," reveals the Colombian. "I think that television and social networks are the fastest way to reach people, to impact them and show your kitchen. I would like to do television in the United States." In March of 2017, Juanma closed with a flourish in Madrid, his Pop-Up restaurant El Cielo was a success and he was also accompanied by his great friend the football player James Rodriguez. 

Barrientos also works hard with El Cielo Foundation, which trains soldiers injured in combat and former Colombian guerrillas in the kitchen, achieving forgiveness and reconciliation between them. Similarly, and despite his hectic lifestyle, for Juan Manuel family is everything and he assures that maintaining a balance between his family and business life hasn't been difficult since his wife and his four-month-old baby travel with him all the time and are an important part of the team.

Juan Manuel, through Latin Times, sends a message to all aspiring chefs who wish to one day succeed in the kitchen. "The important thing is that you should do what you really want to be and not what society imposes on you. What we have to understand is that making mistakes is not bad, the bad thing is not reflecting or correcting mistakes or learning from them," says the chef. "Being mediocre and making a mistake is different if you learn from the error."

To help you correct common mistakes in the kitchen, Juanma shares with the Latin Times five tips that will help you when cooking:

  1. Not having a sharp knife is a serious mistake: "It is better to have a sharp knife than to have to force the knife to the point of cutting a finger," suggests the chef.
  2. Cross contamination: "If you cut an onion and with the same knife cut a pineapple to give to your children, then the fruit will finish knowing onion," Juanma warns. "Unless everything you're cutting goes to the same pan, there's no problem."
  3. Do not let the pan heat first: "When you're going to sauté something, you should use the hot pan so that it immediately seals the meat or fish and does not release its juices."
  4. Prevents the apple from rusting: "Water with lemon or water with parsley - an Italian technique - prevents the apple from starting its oxidation process and consequently turns brown."
  5. Keep your guacamole fresh: Like the apple, the avocado is oxidized, but according to the chef, if you keep the avocado seeds and place them inside your guacamole, it will prevent it from turning black.
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Shirley Gomez has been exposed to many aspects of the art world. Besides being a Fashion Journalist, she studied Fashion Styling and Fashion Styling for Men at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, Interior Design at UNIBE and Fashion Design at ITSMJ Fashion School in the Dominican Republic. She worked as a Fashion Journalist, Fashion Stylist and Social Media Manager at one of the most recognized magazines in the Dominican Republic, Oh! Magazine, as an occasional Entertainment Journalist, of the prestigious newspaper “Listín Diario”, as well as a fashion collaborator of a radio show aired in 100.9 FM SuperQ. When Shirley is not writing you can find her listening Demi Lovato or Beyonce's songs, decorating her apartment or watching Family Feud.