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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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El Caimán Gordo: Taste of Colombia in heart of New Orleans

Tucked inside the historic St. Roch Tavern — one of New Orleans’s classic dive bars — El Caimán Gordo offers a rich tapestry of flavors under the guidance of chef Marc Bruckel. With a culinary career spanning over a decade, chef Bruckel has mastered a variety of cooking styles and cuisines, constantly innovating with new dishes and weekly menus.

Bruckel’s passion for cooking started at a young age. He says he often made dinner for his mom, brother and himself since his mom was always busy working.

After high school, Bruckel attended Cabrillo College, balancing his studies with work in several Santa Cruz, California kitchens. While cooking remained a love of his, he took a break to pursue street music, which eventually led him to New Orleans.

After a short-lived music career, he found his way back to the kitchen. He started his culinary journey with a street cart in Washington Square Park in New York City, but he soon realized he had aspirations for something grander. He was then hired at the restaurant Suis Generis as head chef, a job that entailed curating and developing new menus every week. While this allowed him to experiment with a variety of different ingredients and cooking techniques, the work was exhausting: “I felt wrung-out from constantly having to change menus,” Bruckel said.

Shortly after, he launched his own venture, El Caimán Gordo.

Sofia Patino-Vergara

Inspired by his Colombian heritage and the culinary traditions from his family’s Christmas celebrations, Bruckel brings Colombian cuisine to life with a personal touch that feels natural and intuitive to him. Although his mother is from Cali, Colombia, he said that “she raised [him] to be American.” When asked how he learned to make Colombian dishes, Bruckel said “these are all my recipes” and that he just learned to make the cuisine from all his years in the kitchen. Originally a pop-up open only on Mondays and Tuesdays, his passion project has evolved into a full-time endeavor that blends Colombian flavors with the vibrant zest of Louisiana, creating what he proudly calls Louisiana-inspired Colombian food.

Bruckel’s commitment extends beyond the menu to fostering a sense of community and cultural appreciation in New Orleans. El Caimán Gordo, despite its modest setting, has captured the hearts of a loyal, working-class clientele, and Bruckel dreams of expanding its reach to include both locals and tourists. Open Monday through Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., the restaurant offers a warm welcome to all, hosting lively events like karaoke and haircuts on Tuesdays and featuring live music nightly.

After meeting with Bruckel and hearing his story, I ordered arepas with a side of rice and beans. While I waited for my food to come out, I sipped on a Colombiana — a typical Colombian soda — and played pool with my friends who had come with me. The food exceeded my expectations in quality but also reminded me of traditional Colombian meals that I ate growing up. As a second-generation Colombian studying in New Orleans, I have missed being able to enjoy Colombian cuisine. Finding Colombian food in the city has been difficult, but the second I took a bite of that arepa, it reminded me of the arepas my mom would make for my breakfast every day. The Colombiana was just as refreshing as all the ones I had in my childhood — the entire meal felt like home.

The food was excellent and affordable, too. As I was sitting there eating, I watched Bruckel run back and forth from the kitchen to the front to greet his regulars and make sure everyone was enjoying their food. I knew at that moment that hole-in-the-wall El Caimán Gordo is a place built out of love.

For those eager to explore delectable, affordably priced traditional Colombian dishes and enjoy a slice of New Orleans’s vibrant cultural mosaic, El Caimán Gordo at 1200 St. Roch Ave is a must-visit. Stay updated with their latest offerings and events by following them on Instagram @elcaimangordo.

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