Peruvian Cooking 101
Where it is from, where it is going
Nearly two decades following changes in the political climate, global appreciation for Peruvian cuisine builds
For adventuresome foodies, Peruvian cooking may be a new frontier.
Peru’s contemporary cuisine is a panoply of ingredients, techniques, flavors and styles of both its ancient indigenous peoples and its immigrant cultures.
Peru seems a natural cradle for creative cuisine.
It boasts an astounding assembly of indigenous ingredients—the country is the birthplace of more than 3,000 tubers, dozens of fruits, an array of flavorful peppers. Ancient grains are plentiful and the Pacific Ocean offers a bounty of sea foods.
Although a study in fusion throughout the epochs, the gastronomy of South America’s third-largest country has proliferated only recently.
“When the conquistadors arrived, real Peruvian cuisine went to sleep,” said Lima native and chef Emmanuel Villeran, called a “rising star” by Restaurant Hospitality. Villeran is infusing the Northwest with his brand of showy yet sophisticated Peruvian creations at his Kirkland-based restaurant Mixtura.
Few people in North America are better situated to demystify Peru’s culinary arts than Villeran. And that is not just because of the rave reviews rolling in for Villeran and Mixtura.
In Lima, considered the food capital of Peru, Villeran worked among the crowd credited helping start less than two decades ago an awakening in Peruvian cuisine.
Beginnings of the movement can be traced to the early 1990s. An amateur cook named Bernardo Roca Rey, who happened to be publisher of a daily newspaper, began experimenting with ingredients and techniques eschewed in contemporary Peruvian cuisine.
Roca Rey made ancient ingredients new again by incorporating them into modern dishes. For instance, Roca Rey substituted Andean quinoa for rice in risotto and came up with what is now known as quinotto.
Roca Rey’s newspaper began publishing regularly recipes and a food column.
His daughter, Hirka Roca Rey, found inspiration and opened a restaurant—Pantagruel. Another early adopter was Chef Cucho La Rosa, who opened the first restaurant with a completely New Andean menu.
Cooking in the style of New Andean, or “Novo Andina” as the movement also is known, fundamentally is about mixing Peru’s old ways and old ingredients with foods brought by immigrants.
A repressive government for decades had held that sort of mixing as taboo.
“No one dared to mix the various distinct cuisines in Peru. The country was politically and geographically isolated, so that little of its astonishing variety of foods…showed up in the markets. Even when they did, limeños disdained ingredients from the Andes, considering them peasant food,” wrote Laura Fraser in the August 2006 issue of Gourmet.
About the time Bernardo began his public experimentation, the political climate changed toward openness.
Cooks and chefs, one after another, joined the new culinary adventure.
La Rosa after several years moved over to Hirka Roca Rey’s Pantagruel. Villeran by 1996 became sous-chef for Pantagruel and worked under La Rosa, today considered the father of the New Andean movement.
Villeran and his business partners chose the name Mixtura as homage to the fusion between foods rooted in Incan times and contemporary, immigrant-influenced Peruvian cooking.
“The key to Novo Andina is that the ingredients are familiar but are made new when they are prepared using modern techniques,” Villeran said.
Mixtura’s POTATO TOWER, which employs purple Peruvian potatoes is a good demonstration of a New Andean offering.
Quinotto at Mixtura incorporates orange peel and port for a quinoa-based dish in the style of Italy’s risotto.