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With Venezuela in crisis, restaurant gives new “soul” to young chefs





David Zamudio, chef of the Alma Cocina Latina restaurant

A Venezuelan restaurant in the United States is helping young chefs from this South American country to establish themselves in their area and in the famous “land of opportunities”.

Six years have passed since the Alma Cocina Latina restaurant opened its doors for the first time in Baltimore, Maryland. Its customers are attracted by typical Venezuelan dishes, such as fish fried or arepas, but as the site says Obscure AtlasAnyway, this is not a Venezuelan restaurant like any other.

Since 2015, its founders – photographer Irena Stein and architect Mark Demshak – are responsible for bringing four chefs (soon to be five) from this South American country to the United States through O-1 Visa, a non-resident visa granted to people who show exceptional ability in areas such as science, arts, education or sport.

This is a huge number considering that it is a restaurant, especially in such a short period of time, because the process of obtaining this visa is usually quite time-consuming and difficult.

“These are people who worked from a very young age to get where they are today,” Stein told the same site, noting that just because of that “have a lot of merit”.

It was Alma’s original chef, Enrique Limardo, who initially proposed this idea (Limardo is now co-owner and head of the award-winning Seven Reasons in Washington DC). It would combine business with pleasure because, on the one hand, the restaurant would gain experienced cooks with knowledge of Venezuelan flavors, and, on the other, these same chefs would have the opportunity to establish themselves in a stable place.

It should be remembered that Venezuela has been facing a political, economic and social crisis for several years, which only became even more aggravated with the appearance of covid-19. The United Nations estimates that, since 2014, more than 5.6 million of Venezuelans they left the country to escape the authoritarian regime of Nicolás Maduro.

“Although I would love to open a restaurant in Venezuela, with what is happening in my country, I would not go there now”, admitted José Ignacio Useche, one of Alma’s chefs and who has worked in countries like Chile, to the Atlas Obscura, Canada and Mexico.

In addition to learning how North American kitchens work, Alma wants these young chefs to end up embracing the US city that welcomed them. And although Stein knows that some chefs, such as Limardo, prefer bigger cities (where they are more likely to become known), he is always hopeful, because cities like Baltimore, he pointed out, are more affordable and bring less pressure within the profession. .

“Baltimore is the kind of place that values ​​you”, recalled the owner of the space, adding that, from the beginning, she does everything to make these people “feel at home”.

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