This article is part of a series of conversations with chefs in Bogota. Click here to read other articles in the Kitchen Talk series.
I was sitting by the miniature palm trees and ferns decorating the vertical gardens alongside the waterfall in Matiz’s outdoor dining area. Sunlight peeked its way in and made the white linen on the tables seem brighter.
Nicolas Quintano joined me at the table. Sunlight lit up his brown hair and crisp white chef’s jacket. At 29, he still has a baby face. This is the executive chef at Matiz.
Nicolas, from Santiago, Chile, always had an interest in art and architecture. But coming from a banking family, that created a certain amount of problems. Nicolas simply didn’t see himself spending his life behind a desk; active, creative, constantly in motion, he wanted to work with his hands.
So he graduated college with an art degree instead of a financial one, and opened up his own art workshop. He traveled with his art in expositions to Canada, Mexico and other countries.
When he went to Florence, Italy, to specialize in drawing, it happened. Florence changed his life.
But it wasn’t art that opened him up to a new world. It was food. Living in Florence, he realized the importance of food in people’s daily lives and fell in love with the simplicity of the ingredients used in the region. “Using just tomato and olive oil…well, that’s your dish is, and it was wonderful,” remembers Nicolas.
He and his girlfriend started planning to open a restaurant. The obvious first step was learning to cook, so he returned to South America to study cooking at the Cordon Bleu in Peru.
He graduated best in his class. Older than other students in his class, he had a different viewpoint, one that was more oriented towards getting results. Paco, one of the instructors, took an interest in Nicolas, and after graduation put him in contact with Olga Lucia, the manager at Matiz.
Olga Lucia invited Nicolas to Bogota to prepare a tasting menu for her. Wanting to impress Olga, Nicolas asked Paco about her preferences and found out she is a vegetarian, interested in yoga and well-being. Nicolas found organic products at the market and worked hard to present Olga with his best. He’s been working ever since at Matiz.
Nicolas considers his success in the kitchen to come from understanding flavors and how they work together, how they flow into each other, change each other, and come out as something different.
And his personality helps a lot. He has an eagerness to be impressed by what he’s experienced in his travels around the world, and he recognizes the power of simple ingredients artfully prepared. He has an energy often associated with the young and an earnest desire to share the best he has, which he uses to make the kitchen at Matiz one of the best in Bogota.
bogota and food
For Nicolas, Bogota has been an amazing surprise. The green urban scene reminds him of his hometown, Santiago: “You have the mountains, and the sunlight here is so explosive.”
In the Bogota food world he can see that things are changing. Restaurant owners are opening their second or third restaurant. He sees more of a tendency toward bistro-type restaurants where people pay less for good meals. Foreigners are investing here, which raises the standard and makes competition tougher – but Nicolas is always up to the challenge, and loves trying to reach and satisfy that increasingly knowledgeable public.
At Matiz Nicolas feels the freedom to be like the owner. “I have the liberty to cook whatever I want. I can choose what I want to serve; of course, I have filters, which is good, but I get a lot of freedom.”
The influences on the menu are wide, including Japanese, Chilean, Peruvian, Mediterranean, and of course, Colombian. There are also cultural mixes, like gnocchi made with plantain and cheese.
He’s happy with the ingredients he finds in Bogota although he sees the need to have more consistent suppliers. From Medellin he gets bok choy, carrot and amarantha sprouts. He makes the lentil sprouts and the sun dried tomatoes on the premises.
He would love to work more with local ingredients. For instance, he gets his lamb meat from a local farm where lambs are fed quality food, resulting in a good product and reducing the need to bring lamb from, say, Australia.
Matiz is a small restaurant. In fact, to be able to provide the kind of detailed, personalized attention that they pride themselves on, small is a good factor. The tasting menu gives free reign to Nicolas’ creativity, liberating him from the constraints of a menu; it’s like a personal agreement you come to with the chef, and it’s his creative process that surprises you and delights you.
His focus is not on making money but on creating, transcending. Nicolas’ family has a nut farm in Chile and among his many dreams is the one where he goes back home to work that farm, along with a boutique store to sell his products. And high on his list of priorities is raising his family with the same love of food that he’s found.
Note: At the time this post was published, Nicolas Quintano was the chef at Matiz.
To read more about Matiz, check out the article published in UK’s Four Magazine.