June 12, 2012
In the many interviews we have done with chefs and restaurant owners over the last four years, one element stands out in common, the innate passion for cooking. Regardless of the type of food or person's roots, their desire to own a restaurant is always born of the fervor to impress and delight people with their culinary skills.
Passion seems to be the dominating feeling but, although they are closely related, no one we've ever interviewed has mentioned the word love in the context of gastronomy. That's until last week, when Luis Meneses, the owner of Kolibri, confessed in an interview with degustantigua that he opened his restaurant precisely because of that loving sentiment he perceives every time he prepares a dish for his guests.
DA:Can you disclose a few details about yourself for our readers?
Luis: I started my career in the hotel business in Guatemala 22 years ago, in the Food and Beverage Department of Hotel Panamerica. Despite cooking having been my passion since I was a kid, I have always worked in administrative areas. In my last job, however, I had the opportunity to participate in 4 or 5 food festivals in the capital. Those few weeks were always very exciting because they were my chance to hang out and cook with the chefs of the hotel. For reasons of fate I personally won four trophies, including first, third and best presentation. As a team, the hotel won over 10 trophies in different categories.
DA: What's the reason for that passion of yours?
Luis: I think it's genetic. My siblings and I grew up in a very traditional environment with traditional Guatemalan cooking and I passed that on to my kids. My daughter Arlene was my assistant when I would cook for my family and now she's a chef herself.
DA: Did you develop the concept of the restaurant together with Arlene?
Luis: Yes, over the years we have come across incredible chefs, but we realized that we wanted to add one additional ingredient to our dishes, and that's love. The reason why my family always liked it when I cooked is because I do it with love. And that's what Kolibri is all about.
Last October Arlene and I sat together with my nephew and started talking about the project. We decided to look for a suitable site for a restaurant in Antigua but it wasn't until late January that we found it. We liked the name of this place, "House of Miracles", as we believe that we all need and receive miracles in life.
DA: Why Antigua and not Guatemala City?
Luis: Antigua Guatemala has become an amazing gastronomic melting pot. I can assure you that there are only few cities in the world with such a diversity of restaurants in such a small area.
DA: Who created the menu?
Luis: I would say that Arlene created about 80 percent of the dishes.
DA: Based on personal preferences or on market requirements?
Luis: In her 5 years as a professional chef Arlene has met many personalities, tourists and guests and she has been able to capture what people are looking for. That's why we have quite a diversified menu at Kolibri.
DA: Let's talk about the dishes then.
Luis: Each of my children has given their contribution in creating the menu. There's selection of traditional Guatemalan dishes like the Piloyada which has its origins here in Antigua. Other national dishes include Pepián and Nox'bil, which is similar to Jocón, and is native to the Patzicía area. We also have mole, a typical dessert based on a recipe from my mom.
DA: And the other dishes?
Luis: There are several pasta dishes, one I would particularly like to mention is our Tricolor Casserole. It's made with fusilli in three different colors with a very distinct and a pleasant chipotle chile sauce. The dish comes with grilled chicken and is one of the most popular. Another pasta variety I can highly recommend is our ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and fresh pumpkin, a real delight.
Then we have our poultry dishes, our healthy food line, so to speak. My favorite is a chicken breast that we call "From the Farm". It's stuffed with goat cheese and Kalamata olives, and comes in an aged red wine sauce. Still in the same category we have a duck breast with tamarind sauce which is very traditional here in Guatemala.
Last, we have a nice selection of beef. One I'd like to highlight is the tenderloin tips in a creamy jalapeno sauce. My son José is the one who developed the burger selection. The patties are made with 8 oz of imported Angus Beef. You can choose between the Caprese with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, the Supreme made with a red fruit chutney and blue cheese and the "No Remorse" for very hungry people, with a fried egg and turkey bacon.
DA: It sounds like you're aiming at a gourmet oriented clientele.
Luis: That's right, we definitely position Kolibri as a gourmet restaurant.
DA: And now you also offer breakfast?
Luis: Yes, we have a selection of typical breakfasts and our very special French toast stuffed with a mixture of sweet cheeses and covered with oats.
DA: Your current banner ad on degustantigua is promoting a very special offer for this month.
Luis: The offer consists of 2 x 1 across the full menu. It is a fairly consistent promotion that serves two purposes. First we want people to try our restaurant and get to know us. And second, June is the month of Father's Day, and being a dad myself I think we also deserve to get a treat from time to time. The offer is in honor of all fathers but it applies to everybody.