Leonor Espinosa, a Colombian chef known for sourcing local ingredients and giving back to the communities that supply them, won the Basque Culinary World Prize Monday, a 100,000-euro prize for chefs who make a difference.
Espinosa, the head chef at LEO in Bogota and founder of the Funleo foundation, received the award in Mexico City from a star-studded jury presided by Spanish chef Joan Roca, whose restaurant El Celler de Can Roca has twice been named the best in the world.
The jury called Espinosa “one of Colombia’s most celebrated chefs and a key figure in its gastronomic renaissance.”
“Espinosa has revived the ancestral knowledge and know-how of mainly indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples. She supports rural development based on food sovereignty, and promotes routes to market for small producers,” it said in announcing the award.
“She’s a person with tenacity, perseverance, and commitment to preserving her country’s diversity,” Roca said at the award ceremony.
The prize was launched last year by the Basque Culinary Center and the Basque government in northern Spain.
The Basque Culinary Center is a gastronomic university born off the back of a revolution in Spanish cuisine epitomized by the Basque country’s plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants and by Ferran Adria, the father of molecular gastronomy.
The first winner was Venezuelan chef Maria Fernanda di Giacobbe, for her work to make the world a better place through chocolate: namely, by improving conditions for farmers of cacao, one of her signature ingredients.
Espinosa is known for her highly artistic take on culinary traditions from across Colombia, from the “conchadores” who gather shellfish on the Pacific coast to the recipes inherited from African slaves on the Caribbean coast to the flavors of the Andes highlands.
The prize money — about $114,000 — is to devote to a project or institution of her choice.
“The award shines a light on those communities that for years have struggled to be recognized for their ancestral value and contribution to national cultural identity,” said Espinosa, 54.
On Tuesday, star chefs Roca, Michel Bras of France, Gaston Acurio of Peru and others will lead a symposium on biodiversity and gastronomy amid the floating gardens of Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mexico City.