A multi-talented Colombian chef marrying art, politics and gastronomy, Leonor Espinosa, chef-owner of Leo in Bogotá has been crowned World’s Best Female Chef 2022
Voted for by experts from across the globe, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022 has announced the winner of The World’s Best Female Chef Award. Leonor Espinosa, who was previously named Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2017, champions local products and ingredients from Colombia’s biodiversity through her cuisine and has become one of the most important and iconic personalities in the country through her hard and consistent work.
A key figure in Colombia’s food renaissance, Espinosa relocated and reimagined her flagship restaurant just last year in the upmarket Chapinero district of Bogotá. At the new venue, Espinosa has crafted a tasting menu with 100% of the ingredients sourced within the country and each dish forming part of a broader Colombian food narrative. Inspired by Espinosa’s ‘Ciclo-Bioma’ concept, this is no mere mouthful – the gastronomic experience focuses on the country’s varied ecosystems and explores the ways new species can be utilised in the kitchen.
William Drew, Director of Content for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, commented: “Leonor Espinosa has become one of the most iconic Latin American chefs of her generation, championing both her country’s biodiversity and its cultural diversity like no other.
Combining extensive scientific research with culinary innovation, she is a self-taught chef who continues to seek new knowledge, as well as to educate others. We’re thrilled to be able to recognise her incredible work with this important award.”
After starting out as an advertising executive, Espinosa felt she needed to satisfy her creative spirit further through gastronomy. She opened her eponymous restaurant, originally called Leo, but known as Leo Cocina y Cava, in 2005, with a fusion of traditional and modern Colombian cooking. Returning to its original name in 2015, the restaurant has firmly cemented its place as one of the best dining destinations in the region, ranking No.46 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021.
In 2008, Espinosa founded the non-profit Funleo with her daughter, Laura Hernández-Espinosa, who is also Leo’s head sommelier. The mother-and-daughter team have helped to unveil some of the secrets of indigenous ingredients and ancestral techniques that act as inspiration for Leo’s innovative menus.
Aiming to support rural and ethnic communities, Funleo continues to identify, reclaim and promote the culinary traditions while simultaneously promoting their wellbeing and health – with programmes that enhance traditional ingredients and empower the groups towards food sovereignty. Each unique ingredient’s origin is highlighted on Leo’s menu, such as lemon and big-headed ants and mojojoy worms from the humid forests, pulantana from the desert and cacay and cnopio from the Andean foothills.
Going far beyond the role of just ‘chef’, over the years Espinosa has further helped build support for the establishment ofa Comprehensive Gastronomy Centre in Golfo de Tribugá as an alternative framework for people affected by or involved in drug trafficking. She has also campaigned to raise awareness on Colombia’s culinary riches, with her work encouraging communities to turn their cultural heritage into a tool for socio-economic development.
Espinosa comments on the award; “I receive this award with great joy because now my voice can be heard a little more, which will allow me to continue basing gastronomy as a prevailing instrument in the generation of socioeconomic well-being, especially in developing countries.”