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Meet Nicolas Zerrato of Medallon L.A. in West Adams

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicolas Zerrato.

Nicolas, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia and moved to the US when I was 15 with my family. It all hit me when I was 18 in Miami: I used to watch the Food Network and got inspired by the chefs I was watching — Jamie Oliver, Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray and the wonderful Anthony Bourdain, among others. I was so moved by their work, that I enrolled in a three-year cooking program at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in my mid-20s.

While I was in the program, I started working at the convention center prepping food for hundreds of people. It was incredibly challenging to do both at the same time since it was so much work- which in turn affected my schooling and I found out during my 2nd semester that I didn’t make it to the next year. I was never the type of student to keep track of notes and notebooks because I was always confident in my cooking skills in practice. Sadly that didn’t help me pass the school year- but I know that’s what kept my drive and love for cooking going.

I’ve always believed that “practice makes perfect,” so I decided to continue working at the convention center for another six months. Being there and having some time to really meditate about my values as a chef, I decided to become vegetarian and lost all interest in the traditional cooking I had learned that first-year at school.

Since then, my life has had many turns; I had a baby girl and decided to move from Miami to LA to build a better life for her. Being in Los Angeles, I was committed to starting my own business and saw that there was a lack of Plant-based Colombian food. That’s when I invested some money, bought an empanada assembler from Colombia and dedicated 3-4 months to create the best crust for an empanada, which is one of the most important parts of the process… if you’re Colombian, you know this! The texture has to be thin, crunchy and soft, at the same time.

When I mastered that, I started making the filling recipes and to this day, I’m very proud to say that Medallon has the best variety of plant-based vegan Colombian empanadas. And ALL the empanadas that have maintained the business so far have been made by hand, by me.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Food is the way to the heart and soul, and since I’ve always loved cooking — being able to host people and nurture them with good food brings me great joy. This has always been my focus and what keeps me motivated. There’s always something to learn about each particular process and stage of the business. Of course, as an artist, I’m good at developing the product, but it’s not just about having a great product; you need to brand it and getting people to try it is always a challenge that requires a lot of work and strategy. However, patience is a key element to hold everything together. Consistency is essential to create a recognizable brand and product, and although it hasn’t been an easy journey, it’s been a really exciting one. I’ve had the opportunity to share the journey with my closest friends and they have been a big help and support, not to mention, the guinea pigs that try my food 😉

Please tell us about Medallon L.A.
Medallon offers plant-based Colombian food and our specialty is corn empanadas. We also offer other Colombian delicatessens like papa criolla (fried Andean potato), arepas (toasted corn patty) and patacones (flattened fried plantain) with all sorts of delicious toppings and fun dipping sauces.

Our focus is to present traditional Colombian gastronomy in a fun, fresh and healthy way. I keep the prep time quick and easy, I use local produce to keep it fresh and use the best ingredients to make sure it’s healthy and delicious. We work only with whole ingredients like grains, legumes, nuts, and vegetables covering the nine amino acids for protein intake. I also have gluten-free alternatives, highlighting the essential flavor of each individual element involved.

Our dishes are colorful and zesty representing the diversity of our culture. It is important to understand the necessity for plant-based alternatives, especially during these precarious times. Right now, more than ever, we have to get on the same page to set some high moral standards for how we make and choose what we eat in order to make it sustainable for the environment, and in turn, for our bodies. During quarantine, people are wanting love and hope, and I think Medallon offers food that feels like comfort food, like a big, warm hug- but is also made with healthy ingredients. It’s like medicine; we have to carefully choose what we consume because it not only nurtures and strengthens our health, but it feeds our mind and soul as well.

I think the food we offer is at a great price, and hopefully, more people will be inspired to try this, rather than go to their obvious fast food option. At Medallon we make everything from scratch and don’t use processed food or imitation meat alternatives. We understand it’s not easy to go out to eat or hit our pop up shops often, so we’ve been starting to provide the customer with frozen empanadas and arepas, so they can take home and heat up at their convenience.

We are available on Postmates, GrubHub, Doordash and for pick up at our location on West Jefferson Blvd.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I had to start over again, I probably wouldn’t have started at all! I never realized how difficult this path would be- so in hindsight, I’m almost thankful I didn’t know all the hurdles I’d have to jump because it would have scared me and I wouldn’t have embarked on this journey. Now that I’m deep into it, I think all of the little mistakes, the trials, and errors, have taught me something, so I can’t take them back. Living in the present has just had me receive challenges in the moment and resolve them as they come, and that has led me to fully enjoy all the craziness with a positive attitude and an open heart and mind. If I were to cut out certain experiences because they were mistakes, then I wouldn’t have learned from them and it would defeat the entire purpose. So I’m almost grateful for my naivete on how hard it is to start a business because it led me to actually DOING IT- and crossing all the difficult bridges as I got there. And of course, as soon as you meet that goal you were striving for, the goal post moves further away, so I have to go on a new journey to hit that next goal, and that’s the only way my business has thrived. And I’m eternally grateful for all the steps in between.

Pricing:

  • Empanadas $4 Choose from five different stuffings
  • Andean Potato with cashew cream $8
  • Jugo de Lulo $ 4.25

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Guys in the pictures are Bryant Moscote and Frederick FM

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