The Chirican Highlands is the place where Jorge Jurado comes from, the first self-taught Panamanian Chef to achieve international recognition for his talent and creativity in the kitchen. During his childhood and part of his adolescence, he was surrounded by exuberant nature, as well by the courage of the people of this sector of Chiriqui who developed their agricultural production.
When he turned 16, he was hired as a kitchen cleaner at Bambito Hotel, but the perseverance learned from his people led him to become kitchen assistant in a very short time and later working in all hotel’s stations. Upon reaching the age to become adult, Chef Jorge Jurado travels to Contadora Island to work at a resort for 12 months. His talent led him to work in the Catering of the renowned Chef Charlie Collins, the Miramar Hotel, the 52nd Floor Restaurant and even the Union Club.
This Chef from Chiriqui who believes firmly that with preparation and discipline each person is the master of their own destiny, dedicated a piece of his valuable time to The Visitor – El Visitante to talk exclusively about Panamanian gastronomy and where it is possible to take it in the future.
At what point is Panama in gastronomy, and how much do we need to be close to countries like Peru, Mexico, France, etc.?
“Panama is at a very important point, at the beginning, before nobody believed it, thinking that a Panamanian dish was seen as a culinary jewel did not even cross our minds. We didn’t love what was ours, nor were we proud of our kitchen, we were afraid to show it. Now everything is changing, we have products that are unique in the world like coffee and cocoa. If we believe it, then we pack it up and we sell it. We find ourselves at this culinary point, full of talented chefs and with unrepeatable products. With a rich gastronomy, full of all the cultures that have passed through our country.”
You are from Chiriqui and you have helped in the evolution of the culinary industry in the region, how is the gastronomy in Boquete and Highlands different from the rest of the country?
“In Boquete and in the highlands in general, we have the pantry of Panama, apart from having a spectacular climate and being a favorite destination for both foreign and local tourists. However, in order to satisfy the demand for tastes and lifestyle, the gastronomic offer has had to grow at a very fast pace. There are more and more young chefs who strive to bring fresh and local products, often harvested a few meters from the place where the food is cooked, this has no comparison.”
What is the legacy you seek to leave in Panamanian gastronomy?
“My legacy is already bearing fruit, I have influenced and trained many young people who today are successful chefs in all branches of the industry, that is my grain of sand. A life dedicated to the kitchen, an unconditional love for corn (the true gold of the Americas) a life in the kitchen. In retrospect, I grew up next to a stove watching my grandmother make pot coffee over firewood, roast bread in a pan and among the embers of the stove, that level of dedication to your culture is what can make the difference. That cooking with lard, that achiote, coriander, banana leaves and “raspadura”, that pigeon pea, “guachito” and “sancocho” that is my legacy “a life in the kitchen”.
With the pandemic, how much has the gastronomy industry in Boquete, Panama and the world changed?
“I think that the most transcendental thing in gastronomy is that the chefs realized that they could be entrepreneurs, that they could do it. That created a new generation of business, of barter and exchange of goods, the world would continue to turn and the human being would adapt no matter how difficult times were, transmuted to the cuisine of the Highlands and the world, the chefs found themselves capable continue nurturing society.”
If you were given the opportunity to create a project where gastronomy, history and Panamanian traditions are mixed, what would you like to carry out?
“I would create a historic gourmet “fonda” where we have cataloged the dishes, ingredients, mixtures, a 12-course tasting menu with “fonda products”: Hojaldras, corn cakes, mondongo, tongue and guava sandwiches with cheese.”
Which are your five favorite Panamanian dishes that are not related to your recipes, and the five you like the most that you created?
“The 5 Panamanian dishes that I like the most are stewed chicken with rice with guandu, Chicharron with chimichurri, ice cream rum with raisins (real rum), changa, beef jerky with tortillas and strawberries in any presentation.
My favorite dishes that I created: Cornbread, smoked shank, achiotado chicken, pork rinds, and everything that has to do with strawberries.”
Photos courtesy: Chef Jorge Jurado