Lonely Planet Writer

Inside Colombia’s hottest new restaurant where the inmates of a women’s prison are in charge

Visitors are flocking to a new gourmet restaurant in Cartagena with a difference; it’s located inside the San Diego women’s prison and the inmates in pink turbans cook and serve the food.

A photo posted by INTERNO (@restauranteinterno) on Jan 11, 2017 at 8:12am PST

Restaurante Interno opened in December and has already attracted a strong turnout in the tourist town. Visitors eat in a renovated hall which still has bars over the door but now is brightly decorated with pink paint, floral murals and comfortable cushions.

The popularity is unsurprising when you consider where the prisoners learned their skills; a series of workshops run by celebrity chefs where they learned how to make everything from bread to pastries. Many of the recipes used in the kitchen have been donated by the chefs with an expertise in Colombian food, including a sea bass cocktail for starters and Cartagena-style sliced beef for a main course.

A photo posted by INTERNO (@restauranteinterno) on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:41am PST

The prison restaurant offers a set meal for $80,000 peso per person which includes three courses and one glass of juice or wine. The project was inspired by Milan’s InGalera restaurant which opened in November 2015 inside Bollate prison to rave reviews and full reservations.

Interno bills itself as a ‘space of reconciliation between the prison population and the civilian population, generating opportunities and tools for a new vision of life for people deprived of freedom’ and offers them a second chance at life. The women in the prison can work on anything from cooking, customer service, gardening, finance or generating new business. As well as helping their social reintegration, the project aims to strengthen their real-world skills in preparation for life after prison and to discourage re-offending.

A photo posted by INTERNO (@restauranteinterno) on Jan 21, 2017 at 7:00am PST

The new prison restaurant is just one of the social enterprises on offer from the Fundación Interno Foundation who work with current and former prisoners. Colombia’s prisons have long faced criticism for their overcrowding and San Diego prison is no different. Once prisoners are released, society can often be fearful of them and both the inmates and the customers have expressed hope that Restaurante Interno can help improve society and themselves in a small way.

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