Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos helps foodies reach new heights at El Cielo, his famed Colombian restaurant that quietly opened in a Brickell condominium last fall. Barrientos, as much a food artist as he is a cook, takes diners on a sensory-charged journey through 10- or 14- course experiences. Serving Colombian fare that's been reinvented through various techniques, Barrientos takes dining to a whole new level. Here, he shares his favorite recipe for bringing a spicy Colombian touch to a chilly Miami night.


Twenty-eight-year-old Juan Manuel Barrientos may strike you as a little young to be running a cross-continental culinary venture, but you'll change your mind after a visit to El Cielo. The restaurant, which has locations in Medellin, Bogotá and now Miami, offers far more than multicourse dinners. According to Barrientos, the experience of dining is a journey — it's about the food, yes, but it's also about transcendence.
 

Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos


A chef since the age of 19, Barrientos moved to Buenos Aires to train under Japanese chef Iwao Koyiyama, but he truly learned to turn food into art during a stint at the famed Arzak in Spain. For his own venture, Barrientos looked to his roots, determined to make food that spoke to his soul  if his soul had died and gone to heaven, an unearthly paradise where everyday Colombian favorites like platano maduro and chicharron were reimagined into sophisticated creations. Barrientos opened El Cielo in Medellin when he was just 23, and the success was so huge that he opened a location in Bogotá just a few years later.
 


Last fall, Barrientos opened El Cielo in Brickell after almost two years of rumors that the Colombian chef would be making Miami his next home. "I think it's a city that's having a rebirth, where people are changing along with it," he says. In his own offering as part of Miami's cultural reawakening, Barrientos serves dishes inspired by works of art and his favorite music, food that touches his heart and explodes outward onto the plate with every one of his senses. "Eating should be about understanding a culture through food, but it's also a moment to disconnect," Barrientos says. Starting the meal with a chocolate hand wash, Barrientos wants his guests to channel the child within, recalling the simple joy of playing with food while simultaneously releasing inhibitions. "For a dining experience to truly be meaningful, you have to connect with the people you're enjoying it with," he adds. 

Barrientos' food transcends the plate, making its way into your memory as one of the most exceptional meals you'll ever eat. But you can try to re-create the magic at home, serving Barrientos' principal dish over scintillating conversation and a table full of friends. "The most important thing to do with food is to enjoy it," he says.
 

Catch of the Day with Cilantro Mash

 

Ingredients

White fish (mahi, corvina or whatever's fresh)
Browned butter
2 bunches fresh cilantro, plus 60 gr (about 2 oz.) reserved
5 egg yolks
100 ml (3½ oz.) water
Salt and pepper, to taste


Preparation

  1. Grind two bunches cilantro into a powder.
  2. Sauté the fish in browned butter and season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkling with the ground cilantro just before removing the fish from the heat.
  3. Meanwhile, boil the egg yolks and blanch the reserved cilantro in unsalted boiling water for 10 seconds.
  4. Remove and reserve the water, allowing the cilantro to absorb the heat.
  5. Using an immersion blender, pulse the cilantro with 100 ml/3½ oz. of the reserved water and slowly add the egg yolk until the mixture is emulsified and has turned a brilliant color.
  6. Plate the fish atop the cilantro mash and garnish with a streak of the mixture.

El Cielo, 31 SE 5th St., Miami. 305-755-8840; elcielorestaurant.com


By Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a freelance writer and crop top enthusiast based in Miami Beach. When she's not combing the city for vintage jewelry or the best local restaurants, you can find her planning world domination with her sidekick/housecat, Violet.