Chef Daniel Castaño is not happy. The local brewery that had been making craft beers for him has suddenly gone out of business leaving customers with no choice but mass produced brews. The Colombian-born chef grudgingly acknowledges that he probably wouldn’t be dealing with that particular problem if he’d opened a bar and bistro in his adopted home of Brooklyn instead of bringing Brooklyn to Bogota.
The 36-year-old, who was born in Medellin but grew up in Bogota and then the United States, says the most challenging moment of his career, so far, is not the closing of the brewery but the task of telling his parents that he was leaving engineering school to become a chef. “I knew I wanted to become a chef when I realized that I really enjoyed food,” says Castaño. “I cooked for myself a lot when I was a kid and I took a lot of cues from my grandmother.”
He picked up more cues during his training at the French Culinary Institute in New York City (now the International Culinary Center) and during the eight years he worked for Mario Batali, which included stints at Lupa, Babbo, and Quality Meats, as well as roles as Sous Chef at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria and Executive Chef at the Italian Wine Merchants. Castaño also worked in Cataluña on a self-imposed steep learning curve about Spanish food.
In 2007 he quit his job with Batali’s “Pasta Research” operation, ready for something new. “The day I quit I got a call from someone in Bogota who had a friend who wanted to open a restaurant,” says Castaño. That partnership resulted in his first solo restaurant, an Italian place in Bogota called Emilia Romagna that’s still thriving. The partnership thrived too and Castaño went on to open the acclaimed Vera restaurant in the swanky Tcherassi Hotel & Spa in Cartagena; Julia, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria in Bogota; and Lucia in Medellin (a restaurant he’s no longer affiliated with).
Next, Castaño brings New York to Colombia...