ith 2,000 miles of coastline, a wealth of microclimates
and a heady mix of native traditions fused with the
culinary contributions of a host of immigrants, Peru
is a foodie mecca. A growing number of U.S. chefs from coast to
coast are mining that “sleeping giant”—as Peruvian-born Ricardo
Zarate, chef/owner of Mo-chica and Picca, Los Angeles, calls it—
in stylish interpretations of Peru’s richly varied cuisine.
One of Zarate’s interpretations is causa—mashed potatoes,
layered and molded, often with seafood, avocado and yellow
chiles. His version is bite-sized, inspired by cut sushi and
drawing on his 12 years working in Japanese restaurants. “My
food is simple, approachable and accessible,” he says. “In my
more modern interpretations, I am respecting the tradition.
“With the economy collapsing everywhere, I believe people are
seeking earthy, simple, primal and basic foods, and Peruvian
cuisine fits the bill. With this food, you can see and recognize all
of the ingredients on the plate, which is comforting. The food
may seem outwardly simple, but in the mouth, flavors should
explode and be vibrant and memorable.”
Peruvian-born Juan Chipoco, executive chef at CVI.CHE 105 in
Miami, reflects Peru’s multicultural population and draws on Italian
influences in preparing trigo, a kind of wheat kernel cooked risotto-style. He also serves cannelloni stuffed with quinoa, a protein-rich
super-grain, saucing it with ají yellow pepper and red rocoto pepper.
PHOTO CREDIT: Opposite, CIA/Scott Miller, right, Basil Childers
CVI.CHE 105 serves a wide variety of seafood-based dishes, from a
ceviche to tiradito—thin slices of corbina or other local fish simply
plated with a splash of olive oil, herb, lime juice and a bit of salt
and pepper, topped with freshly cut herbs. Other specialties include
shaved pieces of baby octopus bathed in a Botija olive sauce, and
thin slices of fish sauced with passion fruit purée and herbs.
Chinese influences are evident in the restaurant’s stir-fry, lomo
salteado, comprising sliced steak, tomatoes, yellow Peruvian
peppers and onions all seasoned with soy sauce and sauteed
in a wok, then ignited with pisco. Unlike other parts of South
America, Peru’s geography doesn’t lend itself to major grazing
areas for animals. Therefore, beef and lamb are not the center
of the plate as they might be in Uruguay, Argentina or Brazil.
Small pieces of meat, sliced or cubed, do figure in the native
dishes, but are traditionally not the main event.
Following Peruvian tradition CVI.CHE 105 serves 20 different
pisco-based cocktails, one of which is mojito-style, enhanced
with mint, sugar and lime.
Marita Lynn, a Perth Amboy, N.J.-based caterer, has offered
all Peruvian inspired dishes on her catering menu since
2008, including ají de gallina (chicken in yellow pepper
sauce) and mini potato causas topped with lump crab meat,
chicken mousse or shrimp. Among Lynn’s appetizers is a fluke
ceviche served in miniature martini glasses and a crisp papa
huancaina, a creamy, rich, cheesy potato casserole, which
she deep-fries after it has cooked and cooled, leading to a
crunchy texture that redefines the dish.
OUT OF THE BOX
Hank Costello, head chef/kitchen manager at Andina, Portland,
Ore., believes there should be no rules or limitations in the
kitchen, and that a chef should never cook strictly within
boundaries but be open to trying something new. “But it’s
important to realize that we are not trying to fuse Peruvian
with other cuisines in our cooking,” says Costello, a California
native. “In Peru, there is already a strong tradition of fusing of
flavors. In fact, Peruvian cuisine arguably might be called the
first fusion cuisine.”
OPPOSITE: Peruvian yuca empanadas, a traditional hand-held food of Latin
America, was created by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, chef/owner of Malabar, Lima,
Peru, at the 2011 Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference in San Antonio
in October 2011.
ABOVE: At Andina, Hank Costello offers customers a menu that celebrates the
breadth and diversity of Peruvian cuisine.