Bolivian Story: Alejandro Barrios

I met Alejandro whilst volunteering at vegan restaurant, Red Monkey, in La Paz, Bolivia. Ale was in charge of baking the bread and making the vegan cakes. I was fascinated by making cakes without eggs, milk or butter and I knew they must be good because Ale is the happiest, most laid back person there… high on life and baked goods! Actually, Ale’s wonderful attitude to life, his joyful presence and playfulness is what kept me going back on Thursdays to help out in the kitchen. I’m so grateful for the time spent with him, exchanging, learning from him and teaching him my sourdough skills too. I hope you enjoy this short interview with a charming Bolivian baker. 🙂

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I met you at Red Monkey, where you work as a chef, specialising in cakes and breads… can you tell me how you became a chef and interested in food?

I think that there are many reasons I decided to become a chef but the most important reason lies principally with my own experiences in life, the way I understand these experiences and how they influence all that I do. When I finished my studies in Marketing and Logistics I was feeling a little bit insecure, without many ideas of what to do next. I wasn’t sure if I sent my CV to some companies I would even be interested in working for them. I thought about starting some project by myself, but in any case I wasn’t sure if I was really made to develop in this area. Instead, I decided to start working with food. I contacted a guy in Santa Cruz who has a natural fish breeding center and I started bringing his fish to La Paz and selling them to restaurants. This continued for just one year because it was so expensive for me to transport the fish to La Paz and the business wasn’t attractive anymore. Then I worked with my father for two years in the “family company”, which is in dressmaking. I had many roles there but not the one that I knew would bring me a smile every day. At this time I started to spend more time in the kitchen, sometimes just because it relaxed me better than anything, and other times trying to get some ideas, prove some new flavours, and most trying to give an extra value to this products I was selling at that time. In 2012 I decided to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a year and I took an intensive course in gastronomy. After a year of good results I returned to La Paz, and joined Pablo and Rebeca in this fantastic journey at Red Monkey of which I’m so proud to be part of!

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What is it that makes you proud about working at Red Monkey and what does your job include?

I am proud to be part of Red Monkey because it’s not just a food project or simply another restaurant, but it’s a whole concept that drives everything we do. We always try to make things with a purpose and aim to give the best to our clients. The concept of conscious food is that we commit ourselves to make everything we do with dedication, love and responsibility. All these things allow us personal growth and of course it also brings out the best in each of us. This work allows me to be creative, to be happy each day, to be in contact with nice people… and everything makes me a better person! Right now my job includes bread making and bakery work. I also have to be in the kitchen during service time, as a chef or as a supervisor. I experiment and create new dishes for new seasonal menus too. Basically, I do whatever is needed at the time though. The idea is to be capable of developing at any position you are in and that’s another good aspect of my job.

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What do you love about making bread and cakes?

What I love the most about making bread and cakes is of course to taste them!! I realised that I had the appropriate hands, the touch, for this job when I made my first bread in Argentina – I was at my bakery class and I had to knead my first dough, which I had excellent results in and my baked bread was awesome. At the end of the bakery course I realised I had real skills with dough and I got one of the best grades of the class. I have always been a lover of sweetness – I’ve always liked to eat cakes and chocolate, cookies and pies… and I’ve always had this admiration for good bread. So I think all this made me a good confectioner. Of course, I had to learn many things about vegan pastries, like how to replace an egg or milk, the temperatures, textures and many other interesting things. This made me love pastries even more and I’m so happy that I have the opportunity to continue learning and developing many things in this area.

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I’ve noticed the menu at Red Monkey has changed recently… can you tell me about how you were involved?

Yes, we have a new menu and it’s full of new flavours and textures! It is 10 months since we opened now and during this time we have improved our kitchen in many ways. For this new menu we mostly focused on bringing new and more intense flavours, trying to use uncommon ingredients that stand out for their interesting textures and colours. I was involved in the whole process of the new menu, first with the proofs we did with each ingredient, trying to match the flavours, then with the assembly of each plate and even the structure of the menu. Of course, my major responsibility was on the new bread flavours and deserts. I had so much fun working on this, because I’ve learnt many new things and had the chance to be creative during the whole process. Now we don’t just have cakes as desert options, but, as examples, we also have new and delicious chocolate mousse and some caramelized pears.

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What are your dreams for the future?

For the future I imagine being part of a big healthy food revolution. I would love to be part of conscious projects, working with communities and people who can help us reach our goals. I would like to teach some of my knowledge and try to make people love to eat their own food if its possible, or at least make them conscious about what they consume every day. Whatever the results are, I would like to contribute to the community, take care of nature and show people how can they make the difference with small actions and attitudes. Of course, I would like to be happy and make people happy too.

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