The diverse geography of Peru – the Pacific Ocean, Lima’s deserts, the highlands of the Andes and the lowland Amazon Basin – is home to the most remarkable variety of species and unique ingredients. From its 5,000 types of potato to incredible exotic fruits, such as the lúcuma, and its edible plants, it’s no wonder Peru is exporting to the rest of the world not only the best produce, but now inside culinary knowledge on how to prepare, present and experience its world-class food.
Peruvian chefs are motivated by a great desire both to protect Peru’s species and its environment, and to contribute to social innovation through new ways of farming and research into never-before-used ingredients. They are bringing fresh ideas to the table, quite literally, and sparking a new economic and cultural revolution starting in their kitchens.
Astrid & Gastón
On completing their studies in Paris, in 1994 Peruvian chefs Gastón Acurio and Astrid Gutsche set up their first small restaurant in Lima, capital city of Peru. To begin with, the restaurant was oriented around French cooking, as was dictated by the global trend at the time. But gradually the menu became decidedly more Peruvian. Acurio and Gutsche embraced their own cultural flavours, experimenting with local ingredients and recipes with one goal in mind: to promote Peruvian cuisine around the world.
In 2014, they started a new restaurant, establishing themselves in Casa Moreyra, a beautiful 17th-century plantation house in the upscale San Isidro District of Lima. Today, Gastón and Astrid, together with a team of young chefs, are in constant search of new flavours and ideas to offer.
Sublime recommends the seasonal thirteen-course menu, that includes Cebiche de Todas las Sangres and Coca Bread.
Pia León’s new restaurant, Kjolle, is named after a flower that grows at extreme altitudes in Peru, in the high Andean ranges, that is surrounded by species resistant to the climate’s harsh conditions. The Kjolle tree grows an orange flower traditionally used to dye textiles, and whose colour prevails throughout Kjolle’s dishes. Pia and her team offer diners an experience as diverse as the ingredients she includes from across Peru’s ecosystems, produce that is gathered from the sea to the valleys, the high Andean lakes and mountains and from the Amazon rainforest.
Pia was named Latin America’s best female chef in 2018.
Kjolle is located in the Barranco District of Lima, in the same building where Pia’s husband, Virgilio Martínez, now runs Central, in a section of the building where Tupac craft beer (the most famous beer in Lima) was produced many years ago.
Sublime recommends the Diversidad Vegetal menu: Yacón, Caldo de Café, Chonta and Alcachofas.
Central is Virgilio Martínez’ flagship restaurant. I chatted with Virgilio about the international reach of influence he has, and in the UK through LIMA London, Martínez’ restaurant in London’s Soho. Virgilio expresses his commitment to food through his research group Mater Iniciativa, an interdisciplinary group of professionals who travel throughout Peru in search of unique ingredients. Virgilio in turn incorporates these new finds into his cuisine. In March 2018, he opened a laboratory in the heart of the Andes, which works with local families to catalogue different crops and new ingredients.
Virgilio Martínez ranked number four in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and number one in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Sublime recommends the Altura Mater menu: a sixteen-course tasting menu, accompanied by sixteen of the best wines from around the world.
Maido offers Peruvian Nikkei cuisine, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion created by acclaimed chef Mitsuharu Tsumura and head chef César Choy. Located in Lima’s Miraflores District, Maido boasts a joyful atmosphere: the friendly staff will stop whatever they are doing for a second to look towards the entrance and shout ‘MAIDO!’ (‘welcome’) every time someone comes into the restaurant. After a while, you can’t resist the temptation to join in the greeting!
Nikkei cuisine was born after Japanese immigrants came to Peru in the late 1800s, many of them eventually opening restaurants. They began cooking Peruvian food for the locals, but using Japanese preparation methods and techniques. Maido is ranked number seven in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Sublime recommends the Nikkei Experience, an eleven-course menu made from the catch of the day and seasonal produce. My favourite dish was Sudado with Theobroma Bicolor.
A contemporary Peruvian restaurant based in the trendy district of Miraflores, Lima, Statera is led by André Patsias, who trained and worked in Europe. Statera is Latin for ‘balance’, and guided by this word, the chefs at Statera choose exotic ingredients which highlight the balanced relationship between the biodiversity and the landscape of Peru. The menu is based on an intense exploration of Peru’s regions, and on research carried out in Statera’s kitchens by the team.
Sublime recommends the Tentaculo Andino menu: Octopus, Olluco and Quinoa.
To visit La Patarashca, you have to travel from Lima to the Amazonian region of San Martín. But it is worth the trip. La Patarashca is an iconic Amazonian restaurant and hotel in the city of Tarapoto, and is headed up by chef Elia García, the official ambassador for Amazonian gastronomy in Peru. For twenty-six years Elia has been spreading the news about Amazonian cuisine, working in favour of the preservation of the Amazon. The Amazon jungle is filled with a great variety of fruits, tubers, fish and spices.
Using Amazonian tribal recipes, some of which are a thousand years old, Elia has managed to bring a contemporary feel to the discovery for the guest of the colourful and natural way their Amazonian ancestors used to live and eat. She keeps to traditional produce, then adds innovation to the creation and presentation of the dishes.
Sublime recommends Doncella Enrollada con Cecina y Yuca Frita.
To the people of Peru and my collegues
Ivonne Parra, Karina Mendoza, Alissia Lehle,
Giovanni Angelucci, Laura Lopez Pinos