Maura de Caldas promised a different presentation. She didn’t disappoint us.
A talk that lacked nothing: music, songs, sayings, narrative, culture and, of course, cuisine.
Our European mindset of the figure of the chef goes up in smoke when you meet Maura de Caldas, a woman who has defended her culinary knowledge of the Colombian South Pacific tooth and nail. In her own country, precisely in Cali, she was one of the pioneers in offering seafood and fish from her restaurant Los Secretos del Mar to a society which rejected them due to “their bad smell”. It wasn’t easy, however, in five years she not only managed to change that perception, but many replicated her business model.
Today, using the congress platform and live from her kitchen, Maura gave a lesson of culinary attitude and skill as only she knows. A love for cooking, joy, life, knowledge, culture, experience and flavour, plenty of flavour in her main ingredients.
The dish she prepared, dressed with music, songs and popular sayings, is one of the recipes she inherited from her grandmother and perhaps, one that most identifies her cuisine: la arrechera. The name is derived from the term “arrecha” which has several meanings: an elegant woman, a woman “looking for a man”, an “insinuating” (absent-minded) or even, as Maura points out, it can also mean a man who is infuriated. From all the meanings, the dish remains being the one that refers to its “energy”, because when you eat “it heats you up”.
Among the ingredients, there are more than 20 molluscs (clams, crown conches, sea snails, ark cockles, black arks, abalone, prawns, several types of squid, shrimp and crab, lobster, blue crab…) which, mixed in a paella, then refrying (long onion, sweet chilli, garlic and rooftop herbs) and taro (tubercle) blended in coconut milk watered down with the refried products.
The rooftop herbs are mainly: cimarron, oregano, black basil and squaw mint, that as Maura tells us “provide fragrance and removes the smell of the seafood”. Using plants in cooking is a tradition dating from long ago and as De Caldas explains “these were used, above all, in the past when we had no medicines”.
Maura considers it a very healthy cuisine because “it has no ingredient that doesn’t come from nature. It is made for people who work and cannot afford to get sick due to the saturation of dressings”. When preparing the seafood, she gives a tip “when you flip them, do it smoothly and in circles so that they don’t come apart”.