Colombian chef Juan Manuel Barrientos, who has cooked for celebs like Sofía Vergara and J. Balvin, shares his secret ingredient for success.

By Lena Hansen
December 14, 2017 10:57 AM
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Juan Manuel Barrientos
Credit: Instagram/ @juanmaelcielo

Self-proclaimed foodie Sofía Vergara isn’t shy about professing her love for Colombian chef Juan Manuel Barrientos. Last May, Barrientos cooked a private Colombian feast for native Sofía Vergara and friends in Los Angeles. “So amazing to have been able to serve my friends Colombian food in LA,” the Modern Family actress wrote on Instagram. “Thanks chef @juanmaelcielo, the best!”

Other celebrities like Cindy Crawford and J. Balvin have also fallen for the culinary arts of the 34-year-old owner of the luxury restaurant chain El Cielo, which includes locations in Miami, Florida, and in Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia. “When you love what you do, you can overcome the most difficult challenges you can face in life,” he told People en Español. Here are 5 reasons to keep him on your radar.

1. He’s a master of reinvention. The founder of El Cielo Restaurants is known for giving traditional Colombian cuisine rich and unique flavors that stimulate the five senses. His innovative cooking methods include adding guava to carrot soup or edible flowers to his dishes. Among the cook’s most popular fare: yuca bread with passion fruit and cacao dipping sauce, and the “Black Pollock” — named for its resemblance to a Jackson Pollock painting — consisting of chicken splattered with squid sauce.

2. Visiting his kitchen is a sweet experience: “In El Cielo when you go, you wash your hands with chocolate and then you lick your fingers,” he said. “[Cindy Crawford] was in shock. She asked for the long version of the menu and said she didn’t care if we were there until 2 in the morning. I sat at the table with her and we became friends.”

3. In his kitchens, he told the Spanish-language magazine, he’s “cooking for peace in Colombia.” Charity is a big part of his work and his El Cielo Foundation, which offers culinary training to former soldiers and ex-guerrilla fighters. One-time deadly rivals are now working side-by-side in his restaurants. (Since the 1960s, several rebel groups have been at war with one another.) The foundation trains about 200 people per year, hiring some students full-time and others temporarily while they look for other opportunities.

4. ‘Juanma,’ as his loved ones call him, said his family is his biggest inspiration. When he is not cooking mouth-watering dishes, the foodie enjoys quality time with his wife Manuela Lopez and their newborn daughter Azul. “I was recently asked: ‘If you could have a super power what would it be?’ I said I already had one: ‘being a Super Dad,'” he posted on Instagram on Nov. 28. “There is nothing I care about more than being the best dad in the world. I have the best parents in the universe and I hope to be even better.”

5. He loves organic ingredients. The social media influencer, who has over 594,000 followers on Instagram, takes pride in using organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables in his creations.

The aroma, look and feel of his dishes are just as important as their taste, he has said.