Joseph Archbold left Panama in 2010 to travel, study and cook in the US and Europe, all the while phoning home to Bocas del Toro to see what’s going on with his family and friends. He was also curious as to the evolution of tourism on the islands and of course with his greatest passion: food. “Oh same old, same old,” his friends would respond and Joseph -who had become inspired by gastronomic tourism while living abroad- didn’t really like that response. So he packed up his chef knives and decided to come home and represent Caribbean and Afro-Panamanian cui- sine; showcasing traditional Bocas del Toro flavors to the world.
“I really believe in the power of food,” Joseph tells me in an interview, smiling as he and his cooks are are doing the thing they love the most. “Food can change everything. It’s a very powerful and positive thing. For me, it’s one of the best ways to get inside a culture of a place. When I travel, the first thing I want to do is taste the flavors of where I’m going. Nowadays, every place that wants to have good tourism, has to have wonderful food. There’s no other way.”
The interview was conducted right outside his kitchen and grill on Ave- nida F, between 4th and 5th street at his new restaurant: Octo. What used to be his grandparent’s house, Joseph has converted into his new laboratory and theater for inventing and presenting his culinary creations, which are ever- evolving and inspired by traditional flavors and family recipes. In fact, the name “Octo” comes from he and his mother’s favorite thing to cook: octopus. “I found many different ways to cook octopus from other chefs but never as tender as my mother cooks it, so I was actually showing professional cooks in other countries how to cook octopus like this,” Joseph recalls from his travels while working in different kitchens around the world.
We also spoke about Bocas style Caribbean and Afro-Panamanian dishes that have deep Jamaican roots; traditional Bocas staples such as Ron Don, One Pot, Escabeche and Bragadá. Curi- ous about these? Well stay tuned to the Bocas Breeze and you can learn all about these dishes and Chef Joseph’s interpretation of them, but for now- a bit more about the man himself, Chef Joseph Archbold: He was born in Panama City and grew up between Almirante, Bocas Town and Carenero. Joseph started cooking in the family business on Carenero with his mother in the res- taurant of the Doña Mara hotel. As he began to mature into a young adult, surfing and partying became less of a priority and he decided cooking was his passion and that he would do all that he could to take it to the highest level. After being a 3 time winner of the Panama Barbeque Fest and recently winning the All-Star Chef Challenge at the 2016 Panama Gastronomica conference, I guess you could say he’s taken his culinary skills to the highest level. But how did he get there?
He studied with Le Cordon Bleu in Panama at La Universidad Interamericana, then took his talents to an internship in Costa Rica and then returned to work at the nicest places in Panama City such as La Posta and Ten Bistro with French chef Fabien Migny. He left for Florida for more studies and kitchen experience (Key West, Miami and Tampa) and then ultimately got to experience authentic Cordon Bleu cuisine in France, where he worked at some well known Bistros and differ- ent types of restaurants including some Michelin Stars restaurants like Le Grand Vefour with Chef Guy Martin, one of the oldest and best restaurants in Paris for more than 200 hundred years. Wow. No wonder everything at Octo is so good.
A well-traveled Bocas boy, but what still remains his favorite place in the world? You guessed it: right here. “I love this place. I could be anywhere, but I’m here.” Here he is indeed and Joseph’s doing a fine job representing the flavor of Bocas and the power of its food to the people of the world.