There are times in your life you meet someone and you instantly connect and feel you have known each other forever. One such person for me is Luis Alfonso Otoya from Colombia. We met in London one summer whilst both on vacation, visiting family a few years back and from the beginning talked non stop the whole time we spent together! Our mutual love of design, fashion and food gave us an endless supply of conversation. We spent days shopping, visiting art galleries and eating the most amazing food in the company of family.
I remember thinking at the time that Luis Alfonso had so much style, not just in what he wore but in how he was a gentleman through and through. He was a young man I felt would do something special with his passions and leave a mark in a creative and personal way that would set him apart from others. A few years later I spent some time in Colombia visiting family with my partner and caught up with Luis Alfonso in Bogota. Since then he has moved on to create his catering business “Evento & Cocina by Luis Otoya” in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, leaving his mark with amazing food, spectacular events and an overall depth of respect and love in his creations. I caught up with Luis Alfonso recently to chat about his business and what inspires him from his home in my favourite place in the world, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
TMHS: I had the pleasure of meeting you in London a few years back and we got along famously! We spent a lot of time shopping and eating, which being two of my favourite pastimes probably made our time together even better! One of my first impressions of you was that you had style! After our time together in London I was excited to go to your home country in Colombia a few years later and visit you in your home in Bogota. You had a successful restaurant there at the time however I was lucky enough to taste the creations of your culinary talents in your home! Not only was I presented with the most spectacular food and an amazing location, I am still in awe at how amazing your closet was. It was organised and just beautiful, it was the best I have seen ever!
Luis Alfonso: Having an organized closet is not that easy, although I try to! What I do like is having my closet organized by colors to find what I want to wear easily. It is a very important place of my house because I love my clothes and like having style. My closet in Cartagena is not as big as in Bogota but I’m happy to have changed huge jackets for tropical clothes.
TMHS: Since then you have started a business “Evento & Cocina” and moved to the Caribbean city of Cartagena, Colombia. Tell the readers of TMHS a little about Cartagena and why you chose there to continue your future.
Luis Alfonso: I lived in Bogotá for 10 years after I graduated from High School. I studied Business Administration & Hotel and Resort Management and graduated from both. Here I had my first contact with a professional kitchen. When I was 20 years old I decided to start an informal catering business from my student apartment kitchen. People started making orders and more orders, they loved my food. I decided then to study to be a Professional Chef. It was my passion and I decided to “go for it”.
While I studied I opened a Restaurant in order to learn about their management. It was also very important for me to have some of Cartagena’s food in Bogotá. It was a very successful restaurant but after a little more than a year I noticed I wasn’t happy. Restaurants weren’t my ideal of life; I felt my creativity was limited because I had to stick to a menu every day. Soon Mondays were exactly the same to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and so on. It became boring, I loved cooking but there was something missing.
I kept working as an informal caterer all the time in Bogotá until I had the opportunity of catering for several weddings, large parties and huge conventions. I started to get calls from people in my hometown Cartagena who wanted to hire my catering services. Soon I was working almost full time in Cartagena and this is when I decide it was time to move to this magnificent and romantic city.
TMHS: Tell us more of your event business and what inspired you to start this.
Luis Alfonso: Evento & Cocina by Luis Otoya is a Catering company in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. I started the company in Cartagena because there was a lack of good quality Catering services in the city. Although Cartagena is an internationally recognized city for events and weddings, the concept of catering isn’t clear for most of the vendors that work in this “art”.
Being a good Chef is only one of the qualities you need to do catering. As I see it, Catering is a complete art that needs coordination, creativity, perfect timing, good quality, charming personality and a great team to work with.
Banquets are “out” but catering is here to stay. Everyday clients are more interested in the quality of the food being served at their events. Catering is the “boutique” of banquets. We design complete gastronomic experiences. Every event is unique; this is what I enjoy about Catering. My mind is always in constant creation of what comes next to surprise my clients.
TMHS: Your website is quite beautiful and makes me want to eat delicious food at an amazing event! I have so many wonderful memories of spectacular events in Cartagena so I know the people there expect a high standard. How do you work with your clients to ensure they receive the best of everything?
Luis Alfonso: Cartagena is not an easy place to work at. Locals often have very good cooks at home or have relatives that do fine cuisine. This is why restaurants in this city practically depended on tourism. This situation has changed over the past five years, because locals understand that eating at a restaurant or at an event is not only about the food but about a complete experience. In the past, restaurants around were very basic but today we have a huge list of great places to go to.
For the catering business it is not different. I’ve seduced the market by offering a different type of service. Since Cartagena is a very small city, one of the politics of my company Evento & Cocina by Luis Otoya is that we don’t repeat menus. All of the events we cater have an exclusive menu designed by our Executive Chef (me!) for the occasion. Most caterers stick to a Menu list, which makes the experience a bit monotonous. We are constantly surprising with our creations.
TMHS: Do you work exclusively in Cartagena?
Luis Alfonso: Cartagena is my base. I love working here. I live in front of the Caribbean Sea, have a beautiful view of the old city from my balcony and enjoy my work 100%. I normally don’t take more than one event per day, because I consider my presence important. We are a team and I like to keep track of all the details that involve doing great Catering.
I work in cities around Colombia when I am required to do so by my clients. Barranquilla, Bogota, Sincelejo, today from Cartagena, tomorrow from anywhere in the world.
TMHS: What have been some standout moments for you with your business?
Luis Alfonso: Today I feel my business is in a very important moment. We are recognized as a VIP Caterer in the city. Our work is really outstanding and we are always maintaining our high standard by participating and attending International catering fairs such as Catersource in Las Vegas, USA.
An event that I loved working on for its creativity was “A night in Dubai” during the Tendencias 2013 conference. It was a beautiful event filled with awesome food, incredible setting, magnificent lighting, outstanding flower arrangements and a perfect coordination; IMPECCABLE CATERING.
During this event I had the opportunity of meeting Jeff Leatham, famous florist and art director of the George V Hotel in Paris France. He was very impressed with my work and recognized it in public. It was a WOW moment for my career.
TMHS: Biggest influence on your career, personally and professionally.
Luis Alfonso: Personally, the biggest influence in my career has been both of my grandmothers. Bertha and Elizabeth gave me all of the art I have in me. Bertha was an awesome cook and I always saw her and helped her in the kitchen. Elizabeth is a very talented “Martha Stewart” type of woman, she knows how to do everything and make anything look beautiful. Both of their qualities are in me and I am very grateful for this.
Professionally, Sebastian Sanchez Patissier and friend gave me the force I needed to pursue my dreams by studying to be a Chef. Sebastian is a very talented Chef Patissier and gave me the opportunity to notice that it was possible to be successful in life as a Chef.
TMHS: Tell me a little of the food you create and inspirations behind them.
Luis Alfonso: I create complete gastronomic experiences. This means I play with all of the senses of the people I work for. Obviously taste is the final and most important sense of all, but seeing, smelling, touching and hearing are very important to create balance. It is not what you cook; it is how you do it and how your client perceives it. My favorite dish to cook is whatever makes my client happy because I chose my career and way of life because I enjoy serving others.
TMHS: Any upcoming events you are looking forward to?
Luis Alfonso: I’ve been studying and preparing my company to be able to do Kosher Catering for Jewish Weddings. It is a fascinating thing to do from a caterer’s point of view. Before this year ends Evento&Cocina will be catering our first Jewish Wedding /Kosher Menu since we started this business. I’m looking forward to this moment!
TMHS: Three items you can’t do without in your day?
1. A watch, because time is very important to me and I like to control it all the time. As a chef I actually have an internal clock in my head.
2. Comfortable yet nice shoes, because normally I’m standing for long periods of time but enjoy having nice shoes on.
3. An apple. An apple a day, keeps the Doctor away. It´s very important to be healthy and this is something I’ve done now for a long time. Love apples.
TMHS: Favourite item of clothing?
Luis Alfonso: My favourite items of clothing are shoes!!! I love shoes, and love to mix and match them with my Chef outfits. I customize my work clothes because normally chef’s outfits are very classic and boring. It is important for me to feel identified with the clothes I wear every day. That is part of my style.
TMHS: What do you like to listen to when cooking?
Luis Alfonso: While I’m cooking I love having music. Being happy is very important for me and my team. I think people feel the energy you cook with when they are eating. Since I love Mid Cuisine, a fine mix between Mediterranean and Arab cultures Abba´s music is very fun to cook with. Nothing like “Mamma Mia, Here we go again” for a magnificent creation.
TMHS: Favourite quote?
Luis: My favorite quote is Julia Child´s “You are the butter to my bread, and the breath to my life.” I think it is such a beautiful way of describing something or someone you love. Julia was a very passionate woman about her kitchen and so am I. I am definitely identified with her with regards to cooking and catering.
TMHS: Any final words you would like to share?
Luis Alfonso: Cartagena de Indias, Colombia is a beautiful destination for weddings. Let us seduce you with our services!! Come and enjoy the complete experience with EVENTO&COCINA what a real destination wedding is!!!
Evento & Cocina by Luis Otoya – www.eventoycocina.com
Evento & Cocina on Facebook – www.facebook.com/eventoycocina
A note from TMHS: I highly recommend taking the time to visit Cartagena, Colombia. It is a city where The Man Has Style feels completely at home. The standard is high in style and hospitality with the people of Cartagena some of the most passionate and well-educated people I have had the honour of meeting. The level of sophistication combined with a relaxed Caribbean nature make it a pleasure to be around and one of the most romantic, beautiful destinations.