From Boyacá to the World: The Culinary Journey of Jaime David Rodríguez

In the home of Jaime David Rodríguez, located in Muzo, Boyacá, food permeated every corner, at every hour, every single day. His mother ran a catering business, hosting numerous events and celebrations: graduations, weddings, baptisms, you name it. From a young age, Jaime pitched in with the family business. At the tender age of 12, he was already selling empanadas and ice cream; by 15, he was decorating the cakes his mother crafted. He adorned them with sweets, ribbons, and flowers, infusing them with a modern touch that led many clients to believe they were sourced from Bogotá.

At 16, realizing his passion for cooking, Jaime left his hometown in search of new horizons. He aspired to study in the capital, but financial constraints forced him to seek alternatives. He applied to the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (Sena) and ultimately graduated as a professional technician in Tunja. Thus began a journey that would see him rise to become one of the world’s top chefs, according to The Best Chef Awards list (published last November), led by Dabiz Muñoz of the restaurant DiverXO in Madrid. The list includes culinary giants such as Albert Adriá, Joan Roca, Virgilio Martínez, and Andoni Luis Aduriz. Rodríguez secured the 75th spot and is one of three Colombians in the top ranks, alongside Leonor Espinosa and Álvaro Clavijo.

Adding to this accolade is the recent recognition from Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 list, where Celele, the restaurant of which Rodríguez is a founding partner, jumped from 19th to 16th place. This achievement serves as a significant boost for a culinary venture that sprouted in Cartagena in December 2018 and swiftly evolved into a gastronomic haven for connoisseurs. Celele embodies a vibrant celebration of Caribbean flavors and colors. Ingredients sourced from San Andrés, Mompox, La Guajira, Ciénaga, Montes de María, Valledupar, or the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta infuse the dishes with authentic regional essence. Most of these ingredients are not cultivated but harvested by local communities.

“We utilize ingredients that have fallen to the ground or have been plucked from trees. We are a restaurant that indulges in abundant biodiversity,” Rodríguez remarks. He speaks confidently and calmly from Rio de Janeiro, where he awaits the results of the 50 Best Restaurants list. “I don’t cook for lists, but ultimately, these recognitions contribute to tourism and bring patrons to our restaurant,” he adds.

Celele operates with 54 direct employees serving 42 positions across four daily services. Its genesis lies in Caribe Lab, a culinary research project through which Rodríguez delved into the gastronomic culture of the Caribbean for two and a half years. This endeavor allowed him to traverse every nook of the region, establishing connections with communities from whom he now directly sources ingredients.

The Colombian chef and co-founder of Celele restaurant, Jaime Rodríguez, during an interview
From this exploration emerged the dishes that captivate Celele’s patrons. Some feature techniques and ingredients so ancient they had nearly been forgotten. There’s guáimaro, a fruit whose seeds are used to make flour, beverages, and cakes. Then there’s orejero, derived from a 45-meter-tall tree, traditionally used as livestock feed or raw material for coconut milk sweets during Easter. Rodríguez repurposed it, using the peel to create flan and the cooking water to craft a reduction resembling an oriental sauce. With bastón del emperador, a flower native to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, he concocts lemonade or a vinaigrette for a salad boasting 15 flower varieties. “Celele’s menu dances to the rhythm of nature,” he explains.

Looking ahead to 2024, Rodríguez aims to reduce his travels and resume the Caribe Lab project’s research. This prospect excites him more than the idea of opening additional restaurants, despite receiving offers to do so. “What use are 10 locations if I have no life? I’m not ambitious in that sense. I prefer to have a greater impact through the work we do with communities,” he concludes.

Early Beginnings: A Culinary Apprenticeship in Boyacá

Jaime David Rodríguez’s culinary journey traces its roots back to his upbringing in Muzo, Boyacá, Colombia. In the picturesque town nestled in the Andes Mountains, food wasn’t just sustenance; it was a way of life. The Rodríguez household was perpetually brimming with culinary creations, courtesy of Jaime’s mother, who ran a bustling catering business. From intimate family gatherings to grand celebrations, their home was the epicenter of gastronomic delight.

As a child, Jaime was immersed in this vibrant culinary environment. He witnessed firsthand the meticulous preparation and artistry that went into each dish. His mother’s kitchen became his playground, and he eagerly lent a helping hand whenever he could. Little did he know that these early experiences would ignite a passion that would shape his future.

At the tender age of 12, Jaime took his first steps into the world of entrepreneurship. Inspired by his mother’s culinary prowess, he began selling homemade empanadas and ice cream to neighbors and passersby. Armed with nothing but a humble cart and an unwavering determination, he ventured into the bustling streets of Muzo, his youthful enthusiasm eclipsed only by his entrepreneurial spirit.

Despite his young age, Jaime approached his newfound venture with the same dedication and zeal that characterized his mother’s cooking. He experimented with flavors and ingredients, striving to create the perfect empanada or the creamiest ice cream. His efforts soon paid off, and word of his delectable creations spread like wildfire throughout the town. Before long, Jaime had established himself as the go-to purveyor of savory snacks and frozen treats, earning a loyal following of satisfied customers.

Buoyed by his early success, Jaime’s entrepreneurial ambitions continued to soar. By the age of 15, he had expanded his culinary repertoire to include cake decoration, a skill he honed under his mother’s expert guidance. Armed with piping bags and fondant tools, he transformed simple cakes into works of art, each one a testament to his creativity and ingenuity. His knack for combining flavors and textures set him apart from his peers, earning him a reputation as a prodigious talent in the making.

A Leap of Faith: Pursuing a Culinary Career

Despite his burgeoning success in Muzo, Jaime harbored aspirations that extended far beyond the confines of his hometown. Fueled by a burning desire to refine his culinary skills and pursue his passion for cooking, he made the bold decision to leave Boyacá behind and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

At the age of 16, armed with little more than a suitcase full of dreams, Jaime bid farewell to his family and set off in search of greener pastures. His destination: the bustling metropolis of Bogotá, where opportunities abounded and culinary adventures awaited. With unwavering determination coursing through his veins, he embarked on a

quest to turn his culinary dreams into reality, undeterred by the challenges that lay ahead.

Upon his arrival in Bogotá, Jaime was faced with the daunting task of carving out a niche for himself in the competitive world of professional cooking. With limited resources at his disposal, he soon realized that pursuing formal culinary training would require a considerable investment—one that was beyond his means. Undeterred by adversity, Jaime refused to let financial constraints stand in the way of his ambitions. Instead, he sought out alternative avenues that would allow him to cultivate his culinary talents and acquire the skills necessary to succeed in the industry.

It was during this period of soul-searching that Jaime discovered the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (Sena), Colombia’s premier vocational training institution. Recognizing Sena’s reputation for excellence in culinary education, Jaime saw an opportunity to pursue his passion for cooking while simultaneously furthering his academic pursuits. With a sense of determination bordering on obsession, he threw himself into his studies, eager to absorb every ounce of knowledge that Sena had to offer.

Over the course of his training at Sena, Jaime immersed himself in the art and science of cooking, mastering the fundamental techniques and principles that would serve as the cornerstone of his culinary career. Under the guidance of seasoned chefs and industry veterans, he honed his skills in the kitchen, refining his palate and expanding his culinary repertoire. With each passing day, Jaime grew more confident in his abilities, his passion for cooking burning brighter than ever before.

A Rising Star: Charting a Path to Culinary Excellence

Armed with a solid foundation in culinary arts and a newfound sense of purpose, Jaime emerged from Sena poised to make his mark on the world stage. Fuelled by a burning desire to showcase Colombia’s rich culinary heritage to the world, he set his sights on the vibrant culinary scene of Cartagena, where opportunity beckoned and adventure awaited.

In Cartagena, Jaime found himself drawn to the city’s dynamic culinary landscape, where a melting pot of cultures converged to create a tapestry of flavors unlike any other. Inspired by the city’s rich culinary heritage and vibrant street food culture, he immersed himself in the local food scene, eager to glean insights and inspiration from the countless culinary artisans and street vendors that lined the city’s bustling streets.

It was during this period of exploration that Jaime stumbled upon the idea that would ultimately propel him to culinary stardom: Celele. Conceived as a celebration of Colombia’s diverse culinary traditions and a homage to the vibrant flavors of the Caribbean, Celele quickly garnered a reputation as one of Cartagena’s premier dining destinations, drawing acclaim from food critics and patrons alike.

At Celele, Jaime sought to redefine traditional notions of Colombian cuisine, infusing classic dishes with modern flair and innovative twists. Drawing inspiration from his upbringing in Boyacá and his travels throughout Colombia, he curated a menu that showcased the country’s rich culinary heritage while pushing the boundaries of gastronomic innovation.

From Farm to Table: A Commitment to Sustainability

Central to Celele’s culinary philosophy is a steadfast commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. Recognizing the importance of preserving Colombia’s rich biodiversity and protecting its fragile ecosystems, Jaime made it his mission to source ingredients responsibly and support local farmers and artisans.

At Celele, every dish tells a story—a story of the land, the people, and the traditions that have shaped Colombia’s culinary identity. From the freshest seafood sourced from local fishermen to the ripest tropical fruits plucked from the country’s lush rainforests, every ingredient is meticulously selected to ensure the highest quality and flavor.

But Celele’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond the kitchen. Jaime and his team are actively involved in community outreach and environmental conservation efforts, partnering with local organizations to promote sustainable farming practices and protect endangered species. Through initiatives such as the Caribe Lab project, Jaime hopes to empower local communities and preserve Colombia’s natural heritage for future generations.

A Vision for the Future: Empowering Communities Through Food

As Jaime reflects on his journey from humble beginnings in Boyacá to international acclaim, he remains steadfast in his commitment to making a positive impact on the world through his culinary endeavors. For him, success is not measured in accolades or awards, but in the lives he touches and the communities he empowers.

Looking ahead to the future, Jaime envisions a world where food serves as a catalyst for positive change, where culinary innovation and sustainability go hand in hand. Whether it’s through his work with local farmers and artisans or his efforts to promote sustainable farming practices, Jaime is dedicated to using food as a force for good, transforming lives and communities one meal at a time.

As he gazes out over the bustling streets of Cartagena, Jaime is filled with a sense of pride and gratitude for the journey that has brought him to this moment. From selling empanadas on the streets of Muzo to helming one of Colombia’s most acclaimed restaurants, his path has been marked by passion, perseverance, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

As the sun sets over the Caribbean Sea, casting a golden glow over the city’s historic rooftops, Jaime is reminded of the power of food to unite people, transcend boundaries, and celebrate the richness of Colombia’s culinary heritage. For him, cooking is not just a profession; it’s a calling, a way of life—a journey that continues to unfold with each passing day.


In the world of gastronomy, Jaime David Rodríguez stands as a shining example of passion, perseverance, and culinary excellence. From his humble beginnings in Boyacá to his rise to international acclaim, his journey is a testament to the transformative power of food and the boundless potential of the human spirit.

As he continues to chart new culinary frontiers and inspire the next generation of chefs, Jaime remains grounded in his commitment to his roots, his community, and his country. For him, cooking is more than just a job; it’s a lifelong pursuit of excellence, a journey of discovery, and a celebration of Colombia’s rich culinary heritage.

In the ever-evolving world of gastronomy, Jaime David Rodríguez is a beacon of hope, a visionary leader, and a true culinary trailblazer. And as long as there are flavors to explore, dishes to create, and stories to tell, his culinary journey will continue to inspire and delight food lovers around the world.

From Boyacá to the World: The Culinary Journey of Jaime David Rodríguez
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