Constanza Ortiz of Maite Catering pretended to glare at me when I liken arepas to pupusas. She is quick to distinguish between the arepas of her home country, Colombia, and the similar Salvadorean snack, which she assures me are heavier and — jokingly — just not as good. Some claim that arepas are Venezuelan in origin, but we didn't get into that. Arepas are made with a cooked arepa flour, filled with cheese, and grilled. While arepas have crept into corners of the San Francisco food scene, Ortiz is determined to bring a bigger taste of Colombia to the bay.
Ortiz got her start with La Cocina two years ago, launching Maite Catering with a vision of making bite-size treats with a little Latin flair. After a series of pop-ups at El Rio and events like Carnaval, however, she noticed that it was the hints of Colombia in her cooking that had people coming back. She also realized that a bite wasn't enough; people wanted more. After lots of experimenting and plenty of positive feedback, Ortiz is making the jump to a dinner menu and simultaneously going all-Colombian. This is a transformation to get excited about.
"My biggest goal is for people to try something different," she says. "It is so rewarding how excited they are about this food from Colombia."
Ortiz is currently focusing on what revamping Maite Catering really entails and getting particularly excited for the San Francisco Street Food Festival. She is looking for opportunities to do dinner pop-ups, hoping to maintain the atmosphere she found at El Rio while expanding to a sit-down dinner environment. She recently did a tequila menu pairing at Tres Agaves — "Who cares that we don't drink tequila in Colombia?" she says. "The food was all Colombian and people loved it."