From Brazil’s burgeoning fashion industry to Colombia’s chic boutique hotels, South America has long since established its reputation as a continent with cosmopolitan appeal. And yet, the region’s culinary traditions remain a thing of ambiguous allure, ultimately limited by the emphatically exoticized stereotype of “spicy” Latin culture. Unlike, say, Indian, Chinese or Italian cuisine (each of which is a slow-cooked melting pot of myriad regional traditions), South American food still lacks a distinctive culinary identity. Enter Jaime Diaz, a Colombian restauranteur who plans to redefine Latin American food for the international palette with his restaurant Nuela.
“The world is missing out on Latin food as a broad cuisine,” Diaz laments. “There are many representations of Latin restaurants that are typical mom-and-pop style places showing great authentic food, but [they] lack the innovation and encouragement that Americans need to be fully challenged to learn and participate in this cuisine.” To overturn this limited perception, Diaz, along with chef Adam Schop, is cultivating a cohesive culinary personality that encourages creativity and originality rather than restricting its parameters.
Nuela’s carefully designed menu culls inspiration from a pan-continental palette that balances local specialties with cross-cultural favorites. Diners will find familiar dishes like ceviche and paella (the latter of which is dressed up with roasted duck breast and seared foie gras), or opt for regionally distinctive fare like Lobster “Moqueca” (featuring hearts of palm, banana and cashews), thereby representing both the continent’s range of traditions and its endless potential. “The geography of South America is diverse, allowing so many regions and cultures to coexist,” Diaz explains. “The ingredients are rich and distinctive to the geography which makes a lot of the food unique.”
Beyond its pitch-perfect food, one of Nuela’s most appealing qualities is its welcoming, immersive ambiance (an exclusive music director curates a nightly playlist of Latin tunes, new diners are welcomed to the “family” and encouraged to submit their favorite South American dish/country/musician online). “Latin culture is synonymous with passion, family and warm hospitality,” Diaz points out. “When guests dine at Nuela, our goal is for them to sense those connotations and become life-long connoisseurs of the food and culture.”
With this expansive eye on the South American lifestyle, it’s no surprise that Diaz also has designs for expanding his business. He is already considering additional outposts beyond the New York flagship location, with possibilities ranging from Miami to Mumbai. “We believe that there is an increasing demand by savvy international food enthusiasts to experience a taste of Latin America globally,” Diaz says. “Once the food is tasted, the story is told and the experience becomes memorable.”