The Union Market District in Washington DC is home to Colombia’s first Michelin-star restaurant. Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos’ Elcielo Washington D.C. was one of four restaurants in the city to receive the distinction this year.
“This is a great achievement for Colombian cuisine. I am proud that the gastronomy of my country is recognized as a world cuisine and I hope this is just the beginning to show the great impact that our gastronomy and products can have by transcending borders,” said Barrientos.
Everything at Elcielo is an experience and journey through Colombia. The decoration and ambience of the space goes from the Amazon, in the south of the country, to Cartagena, in the Colombian Caribbean. In the first of the two dining rooms, with 50 seats, patrons can enjoy a la carte dishes from $9 to $68.
The menu features unique dishes, such as yucca gnocchis, served with sweet plantain and pecorino cheese foam; watermelon and tuna tataki, a cured tuna tiradito served with cherry tomatoes and achiote; branzino cooked whole in a salt crust and served with coconut rice, tamarind and green plantains.
Following the trend of all avant-garde restaurants, there are also two tasting menus. ‘The Journey’ and ‘The Experience,’ are offered in the intimate dining room for 18 diners and incorporate all the senses.
The concept, based on neuroscience and avant-garde techniques, leads to a sensory experience through the flavors and smells of Colombia’s ancestral cuisine.
Highly-acclaimed Colombian coffee is part of one of these experiences. However, the coffee is not drunk, but used alongside liquid chocolate to be spread on the hands so diners can taste it directly from their fingers.
This journey through Colombia, from one of the 18 seats that are part of the intimate dining room, consists of 15 or 22 dishes that are served in a specific order in perfect view of all the action happening in the kitchen.
Behind this concept is Juan Manuel Barrientos, a 38-year-old man who found the kitchen as the place to inspire him and others more than a decade ago.
His success story as a restaurateur and entrepreneur led him to be invited by former President Barack Obama to participate as a speaker at the World Entrepreneurship Summit in 2016.
That same year, he made the World ‘s Best Chef list and was recognized as the youngest chef in the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America for three consecutive years.
It all started in 2007, when Barrientos opened the first restaurant in his native Medellín. Four years later, he arrived in Bogotá and in 2015, he opened Elcielo Miami. In 2020, he made the leap to Washington D.C. and from there, he celebrates his first Michelin star.
“I forgot English” was the only thing Barrientos managed to say in tears during a video call in which renowned Spanish chef José Andrés told him the news of his star.
And no wonder, receiving a Michelin star is like getting an Oscar for someone in the world of cinema. In the Washington area alone, where the restaurant is located, only 23 restaurants have Michelin stars.
Elcielo is part of La Cosecha Marketplace, a cultural and gastronomic project that aims to highlight the best of the contemporary Latin American market with centuries of heritage. Located in the heart of Union Square, they offer a wide, different and Latin-flavored menu in one of the cities that is setting the standard in the world of haute cuisine and restaurants.