Closed Door Dinner: The Exotic Flavors of Goa and Kerala

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Chef Brian Johnston
Chef Brian Johnston
Chef Brian Johnston
Chef Brian Johnston

Medellin’s food scene has made big strides since I first arrived in 2009.

Sushi restaurants have expanded beyond Poblado. American-style gourmet burgers places are en vogue. Peruvian food is hot. The city’s one Thai restaurant is still going strong. And indie cafes like Pergamino are serving fantastic cakes and pastries to go along with your premium coffee.

Indian cuisine, on the other hand, remains hard to find.

So when Chef Brian Johnston from Toronto announced a closed door dinner showcasing the exotic flavors of Goa and Kerala last December, I immediately made a reservation.

The cost was 35,000 pesos ($17.50) with all proceeds going towards his social project for low-income cooks, Vía Cocina – Food Train.

Not only was I tempted by the Indian food, but it was the first I’d heard of a closed door dinner in Medellin.

I learned about the concept of “closed door dinners” in Buenos Aires, where they’re so popular, you’ll see reviews for them on Tripadvisor.

They usually occur at the chef’s home, which offers a more intimate dinner party atmosphere. Seating is limited, and reservations are required.

Unlike a regular restaurant experience where you choose each course, closed door dinners normally feature a set menu. It’s a chance for chefs to experiment, and diners to be surprised.

In this instance, Brian partnered with a small restaurant called Verde Sano located a few blocks from the Suramericana metro in Laureles.

Shrimp in mildly spicy red sauce, cucumbers in yogurt, and mango
Shrimp in mildly spicy red sauce, cucumbers in yogurt, and mango

I arrived a little after 7 PM on Friday the 13th.

While trying to decide whether to sit inside or outside, someone at the restaurant, possibly the lovely owner, introduced me to Cata, a Colombian woman who’d just walked in the door.

We were both there alone, and thus paired together. We sat down at the table immediately next to us in the middle of the action. Problem solved!

Cata turned out to be a well-travelled businesswoman who spoke fluent English.

Our conversation would carry on effortlessly for three hours, as Brian prepared a multi-course Indian dinner in a kitchen no larger than the one in my apartment.

We were each given personalized menus in Spanish which also told the story behind Brian’s connection to Goa and Kerala. He first visited the region in 2007, and in total, has spent more than a year learning to cook in India.

I knew our dinner would be legit when he said he’d be using spices he brought over from India himself.

For dessert, a mix of coconut and banana with spices
Coconut and banana with spices

The first course was Bhel Puri, an Indian snack of puffed rice, vegetables and tamarind normally sold in the streets and markets. It was accompanied by a famous lemon drink from Kerala.

The second course was a soup called Pescado Moilee, which combined fish with tomatoes, green beans, spices and coconut oil. This was one of my favorites of the night.

The third and main course was called Sadya, which is typical of Kerala and includes a variety of foods presented together on a banana leaf. In the interest of time, Brian informed us that he’d be serving the Sadya as two separate courses.

Our first plate included shredded beef in a green salsa, a healthy portion of garbanzo bean, and white rice.

The second plate, which I enjoyed more, and is pictured above, included shrimp in a slightly spicy red sauce, cucumbers in yogurt to cool you down, and mango.

And last, but not least, we had Banana Kaalan, a sweet mix of coconut, banana and spices. The dessert was another highlight for me.

Overall, I had a fantastic time at my first closed door dinner, and knew the second group of 20 diners who had already booked the same experience for the following night were in for a treat.

I left Medellin the following week for Christmas, crossing my fingers Brian would be here when I returned to host more closed door dinners like the first one. I’m happy to report he’s still here, and planning a similar Korean food event for April.

For diners, whether they’re Colombian, expat, or tourists visiting the city, closed door dinners like this are a chance to try not only exotic dishes from places like India, but to enjoy these meals in an intimate and exclusive setting.

To learn more about Brian Johnston and his efforts to train low-income cooks, visit Vía Cocina – Food Train.

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