MANQ’A gastronomy schools, beyond cooking

In Kennedy, one of Bogota’s biggest and most densely populated districts, whose name was given in honour to the assassinated US president John F. Kennedy, the gastronomic school MANQ’A is located. Three years ago, in August 2015, a successful model of gastronomy schools implemented in Bolivia was scaled and replicated in Colombia. The  first gastronomy school was opened in the Patio Bonito neighbourhood of Kennedy, and is a cooperation of the ICCO Cooperation and the ‘Pequeño Trabajador’ and ‘Escuela Taller de Bogotá’ Foundations. The project is supported by the Dutch government.

MANQ'A gastronomy school is a project aiming at creating social and economic opportunities for young people (between 16-28 years old) living in sometimes very vulnerability conditions and - through MANQ’A - connecting these with small farmers and entrepreneurs in the agri-food industry. Promoting sustainable production and preparation and consumption of healthy and nourishing food is the other important objective of the project. And although the red thread is sustainable, healthy and nourishing food, teaching important values of life and co-existence is as important.

With the support of the Dutch government via the Transition Facility Fund coming to an end, last 10th of April, the LAN team was invited for the closure event at the MANQ’A school in Patio Bonito.

Visit to MANQ'A gastronomy school in Bogota - 2018

The MANQ’A gastronomy school is located in the facilities of the Fundación del Pequeño Trabajador, which already exists for almost 30 years. Mrs. Stella Talero, director of the foundation, started with a brief presentation on the activities of the foundation which are mainly oriented to protecting vulnerable children and improving their quality of life by providing them with psychological assistance while linking them to productive activities such as making handicrafts with a.o. paper filigree techniques. ICCO’s representative, Mr. Omar Rojas, explained that teaching gastronomy to young people has proven to give not only knowledge and skills to young people to perform as cooks or gastronomy entrepreneurs but also to raise awareness on an adequate and healthy preparation and consumption of food and its link with human’s health.

Besides being trained in full-table service and cooking, youngsters attended to tailored workshops on entrepreneurship in the gastronomy sector supported by the Dutch organization Generous Minds, in which the participants could develop commercial and business planning skills.

Green rooftop

MANQ’A model and small-scale agricultural producers

By connecting the gastronomy school, consumers and restaurants with small-scale agricultural producers, MANQ’A succeeded both at securing a market for these producers and at shortening the food market chain, which contributed to improving producers’ income. MANQ’A has established relationships with agro-ecological producers’ associations such as Fundación San Isidro in the province of Boyacá, that have allowed MANQ’A students to do short-stay visits at producers’ farms in which both parts could exchange knowledge and experiences, and where the participants could learn more about the origin of the food products used at the school and acknowledge the work behind production as well as the important role played by small farmers in the gastronomy market chain. In return, producers were trained on how to best sell their foods and on product characteristics demanded by buyers and consumers in order to further position themselves in the markets.

Hence, MANQ’A’s school encourages passion for agriculture in its students which is further deepened by teaching urban farming in the lovely small orchard called “Huerta el Edén”, installed on the rooftop of Fundación del Pequeño Trabajador facilities, where children under the supervision of a caretaker grow ornamentals and vegetables a.o. lettuce, coriander, broccoli and rosemary, while using organic fertilizers made of egg shells, banana peels and coffee residuals.

Furthermore, as part of the strategy for positioning agro-ecological products, ICCO and its allies Melting Pot, Fundación del Pequeño Trabajador and CECAN civic corporation designed a campaign and a gastronomy contest called “Así sabe mi tierra” -that’s the taste of my land- with the purpose of promoting local products and the gastronomic culture in different regions of the country. This contest, held at Bogota’s Botanical Garden, encouraged youngsters to do research, create and innovate in recipes by using local products belonging to the traditional gastronomic culture of different rural areas of Colombia.

This ICCO project, which was supported by the Dutch government, offers lots of food for thought and lots of future opportunities...

Orchard on rooftop

MANQ’A schools and the post conflict

The MANQ’A model in Colombia has contributed to the reconstruction of the social fabric by being a meeting place for the community and ex-combatants and victims of the armed conflict, where all of them can establish a dialogue and build new trust relations upon the common interest in gastronomy as an alternative livelihood to create a better future, as we were told by Mateo (displaced by the guerrilla) and Rubén (former member of an armed group) who stretched hands in an emotional ending of the conversation.

Being hired in the formal sector is one of the main problems that demobilised people endure in Colombia’s peace building and reconciliation processes. Thanks to MANQ’A’s network in the gastronomy business sector, opportunities are created for all MANQ’A’s students to be recruited by restaurants, hotels or other stakeholders of this industry, while trainings on commercial skills and entrepreneurship also encourage MANQ’A’s students to start their own businesses, which has also contributed to the social reincorporation process of some of the graduated. These successful strategy has positioned MANQ’A as a strong ally among the Colombian public institutions that work on peace building and social reconciliation such as the Agencia de Reincorporación y Normalización –Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization-, Unidad para las Víctimas –Victims Unit- and the Departamento de Prosperidad Social –Social Prosperity Department-.

MANQ’A in Colombia, present and future

Having successfully contributed to the well-being of young people, by offering them work training and employment opportunities; farmers, by generating a commercial relationship with the MANQ'A gastronomy schools and with the gastronomical sector, and; consumers, that now have access to healthy food based on local products; MANQ’A now with two gastronomy in Colombia, one in Cali and one in Bogota, now looks forward to strengthen their initiatives by executing business plans including the offering of catering services and setting a restaurant at Cali’s school, that will ensure that these youngsters will keep pleasing the most exigent tastes with dishes like the one in the picture below.


                                                                                     ¡Buen provecho!

Author: Andrés Santana Bonilla