Congreso Internacional de mujeres gastronomía y medio rural


Narda Lepes and Leo Espinosa, the cutting edge of Latin American cuisine


Two of the latest winners of Latin America’s Best Female Chef Award will be at the FéminAS congress. 

Argentinian Narda Lepes and Colombian Leo Espinosa will demonstrate culinary know-how and integral discourse.

Young, qualified, and with clear ideas - gastronomy ideas, vital ideas. Leo Espinosa and Narda Lepes are two of the leading exponents of American gastronomy at the present time, two women operating restaurants and initiatives to empower people and territories, two women who have taken Latin America’s Best Female Chef Award, “a prize that is still necessary. When numbers of chefs running restaurants are equal, we can move on to analyse a single award. Meanwhile, let's give it some visibility”. In September both of them will be at Vocento's new congress on women and territory. We know them a little better. We admire them more.

Narda Lepes, Argentinian empowerment

Born in 1972, Narda Lepes is Argentina's most mediatic chef. For years on television, and now at her restaurant Narda Comedor, she fights for and defends sustainable food, primarily based on local crops and plants such as cauliflower, onion and legumes. She is also a staunch supporter of sustainability in its most comprehensive sense, with regard to the producer (she assesses all her suppliers to ensure that they operate sustainable practices) and also to people (Narda Comedor takes on and capacitates women of 60 and older to work amid the general public).

Lepes is concerned with older people, and most particularly with the situation of women working in kitchens. In a recent interview in the Argentinian newspaper Clarín she explained that in her restaurant the space between the coolers and the oven is 25 centimetres more than standard (...) so that nobody has to brush up against you in a corridor”. Chauvinism in kitchens. Did that happen to you?, asked the journalist. “A thousand times. They rub up against you, they touch your bottom. That doesn't happen in my restaurant”.

The chef defends Latin America’s Best Female Chef Award 2020 “to promote the female presence in kitchens”, and also "to explain the reasons why not many women are head chefs”. In the same interview, Lepes argued that women “have different capacities, but when they aren't acknowledged you try to match the capacities of others, and finally you leave the job because of back pain, trying to lift the same weight as a man. And weightlifting isn't a culinary virtue”.

Before consolidating her career, this chef - who was born into a family of Croatian and Slovenian origins - was a television star who learned her trade in a number of restaurants in Paris. On her return to Argentina she worked in a few more restaurants before opening her own place and becoming a television star in 1999. She has also combined her television work with advisory roles in styling and personal capacitation, head of creativity in a magazine, management of catering services (for customers such as Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, Robbie Williams and Ricky Martin), and several cooking and gastronomy books (including “Comer y pasarla bien” [Eat and have fun], Gourmand World Cookbook Award).

Lepes still has time to take care of her daughter and be involved in an Association to Fight Against Hunger and the Association of Chefs and Entrepreneurs in Argentinian Gastronomy (Mesa de Lucha Contra el Hambre and Asociación de Cocineros y Empresarios Ligados a la Gastronomía Argentina), the latter working to promote the identity of the country's gastronomy. In Asturias she will also be explaining how she manages her time.

Leo Espinosa, the Colombian reference

Narda Lepes won Latin America’s Best Female Chef Award last year. Colombian Leonor Espinosa took the award in 2017. At her restaurant, Leo (Bogotá), Espinosa is well known all over the American continent as a chef and an activist thanks to the non-profitmaking organisation FunLeo. The Colombian, who studied economics and fine art in her youth, originally worked as an advertising executive before developing an interest in cooking and revolutionising it. After she had learnt to cook, Espinosa opened Leo in 2007, initially intending to showcase local produce and culture in a modern format.

She also teamed up with her daughter Laura Hernández - a qualified sommelier - to create FunLeo, a foundation that supports and promotes local communities, the origins of products and the fare at her restaurant. Nowadays FunLeo continues to identify, recoup and promote the culinary traditions of rural and ethnic communities with programmes to enhance the usage of autochthonous ingredients nationwide. “Some traditional recipes have been lost in the course of our history (…). And so my task was to boost the value of local dishes and ingredients to help restore cultural traditions and national pride", she explains.

Her work has been acknowledged, and she recently opened a second restaurant, also in Bogotá. Whereas Leo (#27 on the Latin America's 50 Best list, and #40 on the world list), which has just reopened after refurbishment work, focuses on haute cuisine as a tool to convey the richness of Colombia's different biomes, the new restaurant "Mi Casa" - a more casual affair - broadens the perspective, which still features Colombia and adjusts its prices and its fare in order to compete.