Ahead of its awards ceremony scheduled for 18 July in London, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants has named Leonor Espinosa as the winner of The World’s Best Female Chef 2022 award. The chef-owner of Leo restaurant in Bogotá, Colombia, was crowned Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2017, and is known for her research on local ingredients and the biodiversity of indigenous Colombian products.
The prestigious award is given to female chefs who have distinguished themselves for having outlined new paths for the future, and the title is conferred by a jury of experts from all over the world.
“I receive this award with great joy because now my voice will be heard a little more,” said Espinosa. “It is an award that will allow me to continue using the kitchen as an important lever to generate social and economic well-being, especially in developing countries.”
Engaged in culinary research regarding the enhancement of local products and biodiversity, Leonor Espinosa is an advocate for the social function of gastronomy and is a crucial figure in the rebirth of Colombian gastronomic culture.
Last year she moved her restaurant to the exclusive Chapinero district in Bogotá, with a completely new approach: the chef has created an original tasting menu made exclusively with local ingredients, with single courses that describe a journey to discover the gastronomic culture of Colombia. It’s a path inspired by the concept of Cycle-Biome, which studies the different Colombian ecosystems and the ways in which to use the newly discovered ingredients in the kitchen.
“Leonor Espinosa has become one of the most iconic Latin American chefs of her generation, defending her country’s biodiversity and cultural diversity like no other. She is a self-taught chef who combines culinary innovation with extensive scientific research, dedicated to the discovery of new knowledge and teaching. We are thrilled to recognise his incredible work with this major award,” said William Drew, director of content for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Espinosa has also won the Basque Culinary World Prize, the worldwide recognition awarded by the Basque Culinary Center and the Basque government to people whose cooking projects improved people’s lives and social conditions. In 2020, she was also awarded the Estrella Damm Chefs’ Choice Award, as part of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, the only award voted for by chefs, which crowns those who have made a positive impact in the restaurant industry.
Having studied economics and fine arts, and after having worked as a manager in the advertising field, Espinosa felt the drawn to the kitchen. In 2005, she opened the restaurant that bears her name – originally called Leo, but known as Leo Cocina y Cava – combining traditional and contemporary Colombian cuisine. In 2015, the restaurant returned to its original name, becoming a reference point and ranking at number 46 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 list.
Epinosa has long been involved with Funleo, a non-profit organisation she founded in 2008 with her daughter, Laura Hernández-Espinosa (Leo’s chief sommelier). The collaboration between mother and daughter explores the ingredients and ancestral techniques used by indigenous people, a source of inspiration for the menus offered at Leo. Today, the association continues to promote identity, but also aims to disseminate the culinary traditions of local rural communities, supporting their economic well-being and also their health.
Among the ingredients used are giant lemon ants, mojojoy worms from the rainforests, pulantana (a typical seed of a Colombian desert plant), cacay nuts and cnopius, which come from the foothills of the Andes.
Espinosa also contributed to the creation of a gastronomic centre in the Golfo de Tribugá, used as a place of refuge for people suffering from addictions or those involved in drug trafficking. She has also promoted awareness campaigns on Colombia’s culinary riches, encouraging communities to transform their heritage into a tool for socio-economic development.