As soon as our feet step onto the cobblestones in Cartagena de Indias, our senses are energized by the rich history and vivid colors that surround us. The vendor selling fresh limeade, historic buildings awash in pastels, colorful handicrafts, straw hats and the clip-clop of horses.
However, when ethical muse travels to an exotic locale, it always seems to end up being all about the food – local, fresh and delicious.
This week’s feature spotlights #whatsonthemenu at Maria; a restaurant in Columbia focusing on community sustainability initiatives. Read on to learn a bit more about Alejandro Ramirez, the talented young owner and chef who made our mouths water and our senses sing with edibles and decor that tantalized…
Maria is located in Cartagena’s old town, a Unesco World Heritage site. Why was this chosen as the location for your restaurant? Cartagena features a walled colonial Old Town and is located on the Caribbean coast. Being close by the sea means I can offer fresh seafood daily. Working with local fishermen who visit my restaurant with their catch of the day ensures that Maria supports the local economy. I believe in slow food, a zero kilometer travel time for my produce and supporting the local farmers. I feel privileged that I can offer our customers these sustainable luxuries.
You describe your cuisine as “honest cuisine, where the flavors and quality of products are the most important.” What do you mean by that? It is honest because I cook what I actually like to eat, with ingredients that I enjoy working with. If I have the best products, it is simply the flavor of freshness which is allowed to be dominant. No sauce, no condiments just add a little salt and that’s it. For me, less is more.
What are Maria’s community sustainability initiatives? We work with local fishermen, farmers and foundations to support the local economy. The Chamber of Commerce in Cartagena has been instrumental with introducing training to improve the tourist experience in restaurants; this ensures that our staff are all trained to be attentive and kind. (ethical muse can vouch for this! )
Tell us about the décor of your restaurant. It’s so vibrant and whimsical! This was the work of a talented interior designer, Maria Andrea Pino. She has beautiful taste, and even with our conservative budget she did a wonderful job. The pineapple chandeliers were her idea and we think they are brilliant! The murals on the wall are by Catalina Estrada, a Colombian artist from Medellin. The multicolored shopping bags are typical for locals shopping for groceries. The floor is handmade. Its colonial and unique touch brings personality and adds a hint of elegance to the restaurant.
My family loved the Cartagena style seafood ceviche. Can you share this recipe with our fellow muses? Yes, of course.
100 g cooked octopus
100 g cooked shrimp
100 g seabass
100 g squid
1 red onion
8 cherry tomatoes
Yellow and red bell pepper
Juice of 10 limes
Microherbs for decoration
- Mix cucumber, jalapeños, lemon juice, coriander, salt and pepper in a blender. Pass through a chinois and keep in the fridge.
- Mix the seafood with salt, pepper and a little bit of lemon juice. Marinate for 2 minutes with the above ingredients.
- Julienne the yellow and red peppers and add to the fish.
- In a bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients.
- Place on the center of a plate and finish with microherbs and olive oil.
And finally, tell us about Alejandro Ramirez Gomez. I was born in Bogota, Colombia’s capital, and I am 35 years old. I completed Culinary Studies at Westminster Kingsway College in London and during that time worked at The Grove Luxury Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort in Hertfordshire. I also worked with Gordon Ramsey before going on to travel and learn the cuisines of Spain, France, Czech Republic, Japan, Mexico and the USA. Finally, I returned to Cartagena with the understanding that being a chef is a continuous evolution; open to learning and ready for changes. Maria is a place where I can be creative. It is who I am. Being in the kitchen is not a job. It is a pleasure.