New Orleans’ culinary scene isn’t necessarily known for its Colombian food, but one local chef is working to change that. Jose Chris Blanco owns Waska, a Colombian-inspired pop-up that’s been making the rounds of local breweries.
Blanco was born in Colombia and grew up in Miami; he considers Waska a tribute to his culture. He’s been cooking for about 13 years and started Waska in 2021, after moving to New Orleans.
At Waska, Blanco experiments with different flavors inspired by Colombian dishes, but not what Blanco would call “your grandmother’s cooking.”
“I play around with a lot of the same ingredients, but I use them differently,” Blanco said. “I call my food ‘Colombian-inspired’ because I use authentic flavors, but in my own way.”
In the future, Blanco would like to move on to a food truck and eventually open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but for now, he’s enjoying serving customers with his pop-up and figuring out what works.
“I tell myself not to have a steady menu,” he said. “I think a pop-up is a fun way to play around with food, to see what sells and what doesn’t. It’s all about figuring out what people like.”
Blanco has been focusing lately on Arepas, a traditional food made with ground maize, and Picada, a family-style Colombian dish consisting of meat and vegetables.
Blanco said Picada is hard to find in New Orleans but thinks it’s the perfect dish for the city because of how it’s served. “It kind of reminds me of a crawfish boil,” he said. “Picada is a huge assortment of veggies and meat and there’s that essence of sharing.”
Blanco wants his Picada to stand out and will offer different variations with a rotating selection of meats and vegetables.
“A big part of Colombian food culture is heavy with meat like sausage, smoked pork, skirt steak, carne asada with vegetables to balance it out,” he said. “The culture’s focus is on root vegetables that are starchy and strong like yuca, potatoes, and plantains.”
Along with the assortment of pork and beef, Blanco will be cooking a whole chicken in a Colombian-barbecue style in which meat is simmered over a wood fire and finished with traditional seasonings. This style adds a smoky barbecue flavor to the meat.
Like his Picada, Blanco’s Arepa also focuses more on an authentic style.
“There are a few Arepas places here in New Orleans, but I make mine coastal-style,” he said. “My Arepas are fried and come out really crispy and moist. I was inspired to make them by street vendors in Colombia who serve them because they cook fast. I top mine with different things or I stuff them. No one else around here fries them; they are usually done on the grill or flattop.”
Next week, you can find Waska on Monday (March 27) at Barrel Proof, 1201 Magazine St., and Friday, March 31, at Miel Brewery, 405 Sixth St. He also pops up at Pete’s Out in the Cold, 701 Sixth St. and Oak St. Brewery, 8201 Oak St.
“My next step is to get a food truck and then hopefully a small brick-and-mortar,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind having something small and casual that does a good take-out business, but I’m not in a rush.”
Reporter Marielle Songy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.