Roberto de la Fuente (Clio’s): “It won’t take long to the Guatemalan gastronomy to be heard outside, it’s time for Central America”
The cuisine of Guatemala is a hidden gem that is being revealed for the Guatemalans themselves, infected by the Peruvian gastronomic revolution, the spirit of rediscovering their own regional ingredients is awakened. It is a revolution that has been developing for 5 years.
In this interview, we met chef Roberto de la Fuente who together with Olivia, his sister, are cooks and founders of Clio’s restaurant in Guatemala City since eleven years ago and are one of the most important references of haute cuisine in their country.
They started with a French bistro but the concept has evolved while keeping French cuisine but showing interest in the national product. They visit regional communities to buy them supplies that they then process and sell in the restaurant’s store.
In addition, Clio’s has approached the philosophy of “farm to table”. That is to say, they are self-sufficient, they produce some vegetables and all the part of dairy foods, since they are owners of a vegetable garden and livestock.
All these supplies are tried in the dishes we find in Clio’s, in the catering and it can be purchased in the restaurant’s store, as chef Roberto explained us. And he also told us about the panorama that the national cuisine lives and he is sure that soon this internal revolution will let the world know about them.
By Fabiola Gálvez
What is Guatemalan cuisine?
Guatemalan cuisine is a paradise of ingredients, it is a gastronomy that comes from the Mayans and is a tradition that is still alive. We are a very small but very diverse country, we have two oceans: the Pacific and the Atlantic; just think how many microclimates there may be… we have more than 380, and that means we have an immensity of product richness.
What is the current picture of Guatemalan cuisine?
Nowadays gastronomy has been evolving, we have been in the market for 11 years now, and we see that there is much more interest from young people, wanting to innovate, and they are studying gastronomy, a division of Paul Bocuse, called ACAM (Culinary School of Haute Cuisine of Guatemala) was installed here, we also have the Intecap, a cooking school with different accessible programs.
Besides, people want to relive the local flavors, which had been lost for a while. I have always put Peru as an example, that if we unite as chefs, we can do what Peru has done.
How was the process of revaluing traditional Guatemalan cuisine towards haute cuisine? Are you applying it in Clio’s?
Yes, we have been very involved in researching communities and the roots of the ingredients, in the area of Cobán in Alta and Baja Verapaz, there are communities that are made up of women who have behind their houses, kitchen garden that rescue native ingredients from the area. We bought them, we packaged them and we are starting to market them, it is a group of almost 11 thousand women, a project that Paula Enríquez started.
And what are the most symbolic products?
For me, the most symbolic product of Guatemala is corn, and then, we have a lot of different varieties of old corns, there are also different ancient tomatoes of the Mesoamerican region and we have some ingredients called kala from the jungle, it’s like a type of hearts of palm.
Were you the promoters of haute cuisine in your country?
When we started there were 4 restaurants of traditional cuisine, very well prepared that were 25 years of existence, with people from other countries who started to open restaurants in Guatemala, and at that moment what we achieved was to raise the bar a little bit and that the customers started to be more demanding. I think it was a process of beginning to educate the palate, to value what are ours and the haute cuisine, and today, it is a very strong movement in Guatemala, and this is not because I am Guatemalan and a cook, but in Guatemala you eat very well.
When this revolution started?
I would say about 5 years ago, the interest began to do things differently and taking the lead. What we are looking for as a country is to bring more tourists and see how we got to gastronomic tourism, actually, Peru has been a clear example that it is possible.
How many chefs are betting on haute cuisine in the country?
I would say about 20 chefs with very original and avant-garde concepts.
I feel that this is a time bomb because Guatemalan gastronomy won’t take long to be heard outside, it’s time for Central America, and all the more reason if it is country from the Mesoamerican region that has contributed so many ingredients to the world, I’ve always wondered what Italy would be like without the tomato or what would be the pastry without the vanilla.
Tell me a little more about Clio’s. Is it a restaurant, an artisanal food shop, which is what you told me before and also, is it a catering?
We started with my sister Olivia, with a small French bistro without touching any local ingredients. Then it took us to investigate about our products, since we were trained in the United States, we said, we started to exploit what is ours, let’s teach people the blessing of products that we have. Then, our concept has been moving with a base of French cuisine but using Guatemalan ingredients, and then, we decided to open the catering part, we are already have 8 years old.
And when we moved address, we decided to open an artisanal food shop. We have about 120 products, we buy the ingredients to all these communities, like the cacao criollo and we make chocolate, we infuse honey from different regions, we use a lot of Guatemalan vanilla, cardamom, coffee.
Almost four years ago, we brought some cows from Wisconsin and dairy sheep, and we started the project of an artisan cheese factory, and we also produce some vegetables that we consume in the restaurant, we produce milk, our own lamb meat. In the restaurant we are self-sufficient, in almost all dairy products, and we also sell the cheeses in the store, which is what we call the “farm to table”.
What are the Clio’s star dishes?
We change the menu constantly, in fact, we have new menu, inspired by dishes we made eight years ago, of course with a different twist.
A star dish: Chuletón de cerdo with a gastrique (caramelised) of cocoa and a mash of pache, which is a traditional tamale of potatoes, and there is a saying that goes “they are the Thursdays of pache”, and it is always accompanied by a hot chocolate. The cocoa sauce has dried chillies, a reinterpretation of the mole, and people remind their grandmother when she prepared a pache.
We saw a picture of the American actor Ben Stiller as a client in your restaurant.
Ben Stiller was here by coincidence. He came to help a refugee camp of the United Nations of migrants in the northern part of the country, well, and he asked which restaurant he can go to eat in Guatemala and out of nowhere, they made a reservation. He is a very nice person, upright without pretensions of anything. In fact, he came on a Friday and came back on Sunday.
His latest project
Clio’s in Mexico. Last year we had the opportunity to open a restaurant in Mexico, in Huatulco, which is a beach destination on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, we are inside a beach club called “Sea Soul”. The concept of Clio’s migrated to Mexico with the same base of gastronomy and local ingredients but it has been adapted, it is a menu where 80% are sea products because we have a lot of artisanal fishing on the sides.
Thank you, Roberto for the interview, we are sure that with all the ingredients and passion that you are putting into Guatemalan cuisine, we will soon see the takeoff.
Roberto de la Fuente chef @chefrobertodlf
Olivia de la Fuente chef @chefoliviadlf
Restaurants and store
@cliosfoodcraft @clioshuatulco @latiendadeclios
What is your plan for your future as a chef?
Create your own free profile and see what you can do! Get ready for your new challenges!