Interview with Virgilio Martínez

Maybe most of people haven’t heard of him (yet), but the truth is that the Limean chef Virgilio Martínez is currently the centre of all glances. It is so that even the National Restaurant Awards has awarded his restaurant Lima in London the One to Watch distinction. Besides, his restaurant in the Peruvian capital, Central, has been chosen as the best of the Country by the Summum guide.
He left the Country to study Culinary Arts, story that seems to repeat systematically, but this time instead of Europe he went to Canada and London, now, to the Cordon Bleu of course. In addition he has worked in New York, Singapore, Spain or Colombia, but home is home so he is back in Lima. Said like that, it sounds like he just came back from vacations, but actually he has been working hard at his Central restaurant from 2009. He stocks up from his own vegetable patch, and the cuisine he practices is contemporary Peruvian, sustainable and local.

Nora – Having studied abroad and worked in different places in the world, which cuisine would you say has influenced you the most?

Virgilio – Well right now I’m very attached to Country’s cuisine and its produce. But if we talk about which cuisine really touched me it would be the Asian, no doubt. Southeast Asia, for example, has a very direct style, a cuisine with so many nuances, like the hawker centers (food courts) in Singapore. I studied French cuisine and had always worked around that type of cuisine, but when visiting Singapore I realized they had no limits, didn’t follow recipes, there was so much to discover.

N – It’s obvious then that the products you work with are Peruvian, you even have a small vegetable patch on the restaurant’s rooftop and a bigger one a bit further away. This concept of local and sustainable larder, how is it sustained in you r restaurant in London, so far from Peru?

V – Actually now that you mention it, opening the restaurant in London is a contradiction indeed, because the type of cuisine we are doing right one is one really close to the earth, to the origins. So in London, such a metropolis, to be able to apply the Peruvian cuisine what I do is select 6 or 7 basic ingredients available in the market, and for the rest I choose ingredients related to the Peruvian in one way or another, for example the asparagus, which is widely produced in Peru. However the other component is completely local, and there’s the good thing, that we do a cuisine which adapts, which can be defined as flexible, and, above all, as real. There we have the challenge on innovation and creation, on trying to adapt the Peruvian recipes to the local produce, in this case, English. It’s not about bringing the raw material from Peru. When I got to Lima I had the same conflict, I wanted to bring the product from abroad: olive oil had to be Spanish etc, until we found a good Peruvian olive oil. We are trying to do the same in London, get to the source.

N – However, as the name of the restaurant is Lima, it can’t go too far off the Peruvian...

V – Exactly. But what we want is to transmit the concept of the current Lima, which has evolved a lot. Modern Lima is not as before now you can find very different concepts here.

N – How does Central’s menu work? Do you keep changing it depending on the availability of the produce?

V – Here in Central we change it a lot, as well as the tasting menu. What we do have is a fixed structure for the menu, say we have 10 steps, 10 moments, but the ingredients and side dishes keep changing. With the dishes in the menu is the same thing, now we are respecting the closed seasons a lot. Besides we are getting more and more different products, and we are trying to emphasize this novelties as we do try to innovate constantly.

N – At the Bulli, Ferrán Adriá used to close for 6 months in order to investigate. How do you deal with balancing both working and innovating at the same time?

V – Well that every cook’s dream, but we are still very young and still have loads of bills to pay. However we started a project in Cusco which we have an investigation group working for. It’s completely unlinked to Central because it has another focus, but I keep feeding from this group.

N – Seeing that you have started a project in Cusco, your restaurant Lima in London and of course the one in Lima, is it your goal to create a Virgilio’s empire as Acurio’s one?

V – Actually I don’t believe I could. I think that handling the projects that we already have, and seeing Central as a small real restaurant, what I would like is for them to be even smaller. For example we have around 70 seats in Central, and we’d like to lower it to 50 or 40 to make the experience more unique. We want to do things in a more specialized way. What Gastón is doing is great because there has been so much exposure. What we do in London is also great because it shows what I do, but besides this exposure I don’t crave anything else because I think only with that we’ve brought the attention over Peru and provoked people to come, which was the real goal. I don’t see the expansion as a business man, that’s not my path.

N – How do you see yourself in 10 years?

V – I see myself with a family, with a son, working less at the restaurant. Obviously I want to think that it’s going to go really well with Central, so then I’m sure I won’t be so much in the kitchen in 10 years. I’ll come more to orientate.

N – I’ve seen you have your own cocoa vault , what does it respond to?

V – When I was little I was allergic to chocolate, so I could never eat it. When I was around 15 they said the allergy was over so I started collecting cocoa bars from every trip I went to. The thing is that I didn’t know how to store them because humidity in Lima is too bad, so then I talked to this person who sorted it out the refrigeration system for us and that’s how we constructed this this cocoa lodge where we keep it. We also use it at the restaurant, we keep playing with it.

N – Once we’re over the Peruvian product recognition and the national boom, which do you think will be the next step for Peruvian gastronomy?

V – Look I think we are already over the boom and we are in the consequences period, grabbing the rebound, the good and the bad: the bad, we are running out of fish; the good, that everybody wants to know about Peruvian food. The discourse is over, now we are on the right track. There are lots of young cooks here eager to try new things. At least we have stablished the brand Peru. Before, ceviche was made in many places but no one would associate it with my Country. Now it’s known that it is Peruvian, and this is consequence of the boom. We are pretty much settled down.

N – Chefs like Paco Morales os The Daemon Chef are coming to cook at Central. How did this pop up dinner project where you invite foreign chefs happened?

V – Well we used to invite each other between chefs to cook in our houses, and at the end I thought it was a better idea to invite them to Central to share it with Peruvian people. It’s a good thing because it brings diversity to the Country. We are living our food very proudly, but we need to start looking at other cuisines as well. I also quite like to see how foreign cooks deal with our products, with our cuisine. That’s the interesting part.

N – If you could eat anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

V – The last best meal I’ve had was at Masa, in NYC. A very pure Japanese.

 

WE EAT AT... Central

Every tasting menu is a trip, but Central’s is literally. Each dish of the 10 step menu is inspired in a region of Peru, specified on the napkin-menu that we are given. I hope my critics are constructive, because this has been the best meal of my travels so far anyway.

- Amuse bouche I: basil cracker. Pretentious holder for such a fragile triangle.
- Amuse bouche II: charred cassava with a cocoa lid on herbs soil, caramelized sweet potato on clementine soil. The cassava with cocoa is a surprise made mouthful., one keeps tasting and tasting not understanding very well what it is or how or why or when. However, the soils don’t taste too much like their colors.

-I. SHELLS HARVEST AND SOUTH SEAWEED (Bahía, South coast): scallops, amaranth, avocado with seaweed, tiger’s milk. I don’t usually label anything like perfect, but this dish is close. Very close.

-II. 60 MILES FISHING AT 6 DEGREES (North Coast):charela fish with courgette crust, airampo granite (Andean cactus fruit) and tiger milk (where I get milk and lemon). The granite is a great contribution for the temperature but keeps you waiting for flavour. In my opinion it’s lacking something, acidic? Spicy?

-III. ROCK OCTOPUS. PURPLE COAL (Central coast):the octopus has been charred on purple chicha coal, served on a lentil stew and some olive psicodelia. The octopus is just right: crisp on the outside, soft inside. However it asks for salt, and then the olive comes in. My question is: is the dot lake necessary? Wouldn’t it be enough with some very precise cuts of olive next to each octopus bite?

-IV. DEEP ANDINE WATER KING PRAWN (Low Andean valley): king prawns, airampo rice noodles, altitude cushuro seaweed spheres and fumet. This dish is indeed perfect.

-V. PAICHE IN AMAZON YURIMAGUAS VEGETABLE PATCH (Yurimaguas jungle): paiche (Amazonian fish), arracacha potato pureé and heart of palm salad, clam and fungus sauce, lime line. The paiche doesn’t convince me as a fish, it’s a bit rubbery and is not at the same level as the rest of the plate. The heart of palm is lacking that acidity that defines it and the sauce is also lacking a bit of deepness. The potato is delicious in both its textures. One misses a bit more of the lime.

-VI. SUCKER PORK ON ALTITUDE PASTURE (Central Andes): palosanto smoked pork cheeks, black quinoa from Cusco, purple chicha soil, sweet quinoa milk, yacón cubes. The sweet touch comes from the milk, the fibrous and fresh from the yacón, exquisite along with the cheeks. However, the black quinoa makes me hesitate.

- VII. 21 by 24 GOAT (Pachacamac): potatoes wrapped with clay, goat’s cheese wrapped with tomato granite, sicker lamb. It lives up to it, precise, very tasty, no surprises.

- VIII. BAHUAJA NUT (Mother of God): Taperibá (tropical fruit) with yoghurt, covered with grated bahuaja nut, plum meringue and mint grains from their vegetable patch. Exquisite sweat start: creamy (taperibá and yoghurt), dry (nuts), crunchy (meringue) and fresh (mint).

- IX. ANNONA TREE (North Amazon): chirimoya, maca cream, cocoa stone, vanilla pod. The cocoa stone makes the dessert: exquisite again. Mi only complain is why put on the dish a pod you can’t eat?

- X. TEA TIME: tea mixture elaborated by Central, served with homemade marshmallows and cocoa from their own vault.

Thank you Virgilio.

 

Cebiche, ceviche

Is ceVBiche with a b or with a v? The truth is that this dish, flag of Peru, transcends grammar. Some restaurants will have it with a b, other with a v, establishing some sort of grammatical anarchy that listens to no reasons. Is doesn’t seem to bother anyone though, it has even been accepted by the RAE (Royal Spanish Academy). In this post we will use the v, simply for the hell of it.

If I would have to define ceviche in a sentence, I would say it is raw fish cured with lemon juice. From there, depending on the different areas, different ingredients are added, and all of them claim the patent of the invention. Actually ceviche comes from crossbreeding, specifically between indigenous and Moors (North Africans). In Moche culture times (about 2000 years ago) the fish was macerated in the tumbo fruit’s juice, later substituted with chicha in the Inca period. With the arrival of the Spanish and their Moor slaves, the use of bitter orange and onion is introduced in the kitchen. With the juice of the first the chicha was replaced, and finally the orange disappeared to let the lemon come through. The word sibech means sour food in Arabic, which could have evolved in sebiche. Nowadays, the classic Peruvian ceviche is cured with what they call “tiger’s milk”, which has lemon juice (lime in Europe), garlic purée, chopped chilies and salt. It always comes with sweet potato, Peruvian corn and red onion, although you could say that there are as many varieties, of tiger’s milk as well as of side ingredients, as inhabitants are in Peru.

 

RECIPE -Ceviche Gonz-

This recipe does not pretend to be a reference or a statement, but we present it as a humble attempt. In this cases an attempt directed by Gonzalo Dávila, Limean who guides us on our visit to the raw. The traditional ceviche has corn, but in this version we decided to get by without it.

Ingredients

- Fresh fish of the day (not from yesterday or tomorrow, of the DAY). We used cojinoba
- Fresh king prawns
- Fresh scallops
- Red onion
- Sweet potato
- Lemons
- Chilies
- Garlic
- Coriander

Procedure

1. Chop the onion in julienne, chop the chilies and the coriander and start boiling the sweet potato and squeeze the lemons.
2. Clean and chop the fish and reserve in the fridge Clean the shells and peel and clean the king prawns.
3. When the sweet potato is ready, take it out of the water and and poach the king prawns in it for a few seconds. Make a sauce with the lemon juice, the garlic paste , the chilies and the coriander. Season with salt and thin it with water if needed.
4. Serve the raw fish with the prawns and scallops, and cover with the sauce and the onion, and the sweet potato on the side.

 

Acurio's Empire

gaston-acurio-01.jpg

How to envision that the Peruvian Cuisine’s Gandhi, the stove activist Gastón Acurio, studied cooking behind his parents back. They sent him to Spain to study Law, respectable degree with a future. Gastón tolerated three years and he gave up. His vocation was stronger than his sense and he enrolled in Madrid’s Hospitality School in Tirso de Molina, where he did his last years of the assumed Law School, but instead of laws he learned plates. His father’s face when he realized that his son, instead of a lawyer had returned as a cook, surely could have frozen the pole. However, he did what many hopeless parents do when they feel they’ve lost their children reins: he gave him money and turned around. In this case, the money went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Gastón’s dream, where he also met his wife, partner and friend, Astrid. She helped him with everything, and Gastón himself settles that he could have never become what he is now if it wasn’t for her. Something like the President’s wife.

They returned to Lima only when Le Cordon Bleu gave Gastón the powers to open a school’s branch in the Peruvian capital. Astrid y Gastón settled down in Lima, and for two years Gastón dedicated himself to the school, until they finally decided to take the step and open their own restaurant. They started from the bottom, as they even had to buy the lighting and install it, all the cables... The first Astrid & Gastón looked nothing like the current one. The menu was practically French because the class and elegance was directly associated with the European, and the clientele matched the status. “I remember a day, just after the opening, in which Astrid came crying into the kitchen because a regular customer had suggested her not to let some people in because their dark colour skin would ruin the environment”, tells Gastón about those days in his book Edén.pe (Ignacio Medina, Latino Publicaciones 2012). The change happened when they started to include some Peruvian produce in the menu, but treated with the same technique and excellence standards. Little by little, Astrid & Gastón got their guests to look towards their own Country, restoring what is national and giving it more value. “The cook slowly turns into an activist, the guest into a follower and the restaurant is the place where they meet”, says the chef. This vision of translatable and useful Cuisine is what defines today Acurio’s brand, known for their support to the farmers, fishermen and artisan’s rights, the encouragement for a sustainable production and the fight against social differences. All this just by cooking? Yes, all this just cooking. “Our responsibility as chefs is to get involved in all this troubles and use our restaurants as an instrument, as a weapon, as a tool to convince others”.

Gastón’s work, besides of satisfying hungry customers, has been creating a sense of pride among the Peruvian society towards his own Country, so much that they even want him for president (title that he does not want at all). His empire of restaurants, expanded around the world, (Santiago de Chile, Mexico, Caracas, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, NYC and Madrid), has helped to spread the Peruvian Cuisine’s concept, so successfully that even Forbes magazine considered it like one of the 10 culinary trends of 2012, and World Travel Awards chose Peru as the best culinary destination in the World. Besides, he has opened a cooking school in one of the least favored neighborhoods in Lima, around Pachacútec area, to teach the poorest how to cook. In conclusion, Gastón Acurio is only lacking the ability to resurrect to become a saint.

 

WE EAT AT... Astrid & Gastón

When I was in Lima I was lucky enough to eat at his restaurant. Having expanded his empire so much, one doubts if the quality of the food would still be the same. What kind of juggling does the King practice to maintain the standards in the kingdom?

- Bread: also customized: chicha morada or andine cereal loafs. Crunchy and warm.
- Amuse bouche: a rice cracker covered with nori seaweed dust and served with a fish and lemon mayonnaise. Promising start.
- Fiery scallops with passion fruit honey, sweet potato crisp and rocoto foam. In this case the name goes beyond the actual plate, considering that I didn’t really tasted the passion fruit or the rocoto in the foam. Nice in general, but a little bit too sweet and disappointing.
- Guinea Pig with sun dried potatoes. This dish was with no doubt compensatory after the scallops. The cuy or guinea pig is an edible rodent cooked by the Peruvian, Bolivian, Colombian and Ecuadorian. As they usually leave his head on, people is not too keen on eating them. However, its meat is very tasty. Astrid & Gastón’s was quite exquisite: crunchy skin, tender meat, combines perfectly with the simple salad next to it and the carapulcra or potato stew, which were cut in such small cubes that it resembled rice. Not such a complicated dish but elaborated with extreme precision.
- Dessert: purple chicha pudding with Carlota cow’s milk ice-cream, macambo biscuit (Amazonian fruit) and purple chicha rice leaf . I found the pudding a bit dense, although the ice-cream distracts you from it, which really, really tastes like milk. The biscuit is more an excuse, a promise that stays like a promise. What does the purple chicha actually taste like?

 

Chifa here, Chifa there

In a similar way to the Japanese, the Chinese got to Peru. Not as fortunate on the naming though, the culíes (close to the word “culo”, meaning ass, in Spanish) or Chinese immigrants, actually got to Peru a bit earlier, around mid XIX century. They used to sign 8 year work contracts to be able to move to Peru, where most of them ended up working under slave conditions. However, once they could clear their debts, they would open small establishments, which soon would cover the urban Peruvian landscape. Most of them would become cooks, as that was the activity many of them use to perform in their worker days, so that’s how the chifas (Peruvian-Chinese restaurants) blossomed around the streets. They started to grow the products they missed, so that’s how ingredients like the kión (ginger) or the sillau (soy sauce) were incorporated to the Peruvian recipes on a mutual contagion. The result today is a Chiruvian hybrid, is a very tasteful crossbreeding, not from here, not from there, just in the mouth.

Here is a documentary about the Chifa culture by USMP students:

 

WE EAT AT... Chifa Titi

Again, like the Nikkei Cuisine, the distinction between the Chinese and the Peruvian-Chinese is extremely subtle. So subtle that at Chifa Titi is unnoticeable, because the service is Chinese, the decoration is Chinese, the food is Chinese. With Peruvian vegetables, yes, but the food is Chinese! Anyway, we had the typical duck dish with chaufa rice (fried rice), quite tasty, excellent service, but honestly the concept of chifa is clearer on theory than on the table.

 

RECIPE -Peruvian Stir Fry-

According to Gonzalo Dávila, Limean who taught me how to cook it, Peruvian StirFry is a dish with no big science behind it, and which secret lies on the precision of the cooking times of each one of its elements. “Each vegetable has to have a leading role. Everything depends on the size of the cuts and the time on the pan, it must be very precise for it to be crunchy, so when it’s time to have a bite you should feel the different combinations in your mouth. Actually it’s in your mouth where the Peruvian Stir Fry comes together and consolidates.” Gonzalo tells us.

Ingredients

- Tomatoes
- Peppers
- Chilies
- Red onion
- Mushrooms (optional, not traditional)
- Beef loin
- Potatoes
- Rice
- Vegetable oil, vinegar, soy sauce
- Salt, black pepper, cumin

Procedure

1. Deseed the tomatoes, peppers and chilies. Cut the tomatoes and red onion in a thick julienne and the chilies in a thin julienne. Laminate the mushrooms and start frying the potatoes and boiling the rice (standard french fries and white rice procedure).
2. Seal the whole piece of meat for a few seconds. In the same pan (a wok preferably) start sauteing all the veg but the tomatoes and mushrooms. Meanwhile chop the meat in long and small pieces (thickness to taste).
3. Before the veg goes soggy, add the meat and fry at a high heat. Add the tomatoes and mushrooms last minute and a splash of vinegar and soy sauce.
4. Let it cook briefly and serve with the fries and rice.

 

RECIPE -Chaufa Rice-

The word “chaufa” comes from the Chinese chǎofàn, which means “fried rice”. Therefore when we say chaufa rice, we actually say fried rice rice. Sounds like a song.

Ingredients

- White rice
- Chicken in cubes, ham, sausages
- Spring onion
- Ginger
- Eggs
- Aji no moto, black pepper
- Soy sauce, vegetable oil, sesame oil

Procedure

1. Boil the rice on its own.
2. Chop the spring onion and the ginger.
3. Sauté the chicken, ham and sausages in a pan (a wok preferably). When it’s golden add the spring onion and ginger and let it cook for a few more minutes. Season with the black pepper and aji no moto.
4. Make a french omelette and cut in dices.
5. Add the cooked white rice and add the soy sauce and sesame oil. Serve with the omelette sprinkled over.

 

Purple chicha

The day in which Coca Cola will rule the world is a bit further away in Peru. Here the consumption of purple chicha (maize) almost exceeds the brown monster's one, which is a national relief. This drink is traditionally prepared boiling purple chicha with cinnamon, sugar and fruit peelings. It was drunk even before the Inca times, and it's one of the few things which has kept the popularity from back then. Besides, it has so many healthy properties, that surely peruvian doctors just need to prescribe purple chicha in case of uncertain diagnose, like Reflex (skin gel) in my school when I was a child. I'm not exaggerating though: "the Medicine School of Nagoya University in Japan has demonstrated that the purple chicha pigments prevents the development of colon cancer. Besides, it lowers the blood pressure and the cholesterol, it benefits the blood circulation, protects the blood vases from oxidizing, improves the microcirculation, it's anti-inflammatory, it encourages the connective tissue regeneration and promotes the collagen formation." (Wikipedia)

It's only natural that you're able to find it at almost every house with a door and in every house without one. It's like a secret elixir which every Peruvian knows about, and which, if the Japanese are not mistaken, will probably save the world. I've tried to make something savory out of the sweet. Here it is my purple interpretation:

 

RECIPE -Purple Chicha Risotto with Chicken and Maniyaki Sauce-

Ingredients

- Arborio rice
- 2 purple chicha (maize)
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- Spring onion, chopped
- 1 chicken breast
- Teriyaki sauce
- Peanut butter
- Soy sauce
- Butter, oil, salt, pepper, sugar

Procedure

1. Sauté the onion and garlic in a saucepan. When they are golden, put the purple chicha in and cover with water. Cook at a low heat for an hour and a half, and afterwards strain and reduce the liquid for another half hour to obtain the purple chicha stock.
2. Heat up the teriyaki sauce with the sugar (to taste) till it dissolves. Let it cool and use it to marinade the chicken.
3. Sauté the rice with the white part of the spring onion, and add the right amount the stock to it (usually it's 1 cup of rice by 3 of water) and cook the rice at low heat, stirring constantly.
4. Drain the chicken, reserve the sauce, and fry it in a pan. When it's ready remove from the pan and put in the teriyaki sauce. When it has reduced a little bit, dissolve in the peanut butter.
5. Serve the risotto with the chicken. Cover the latter with the maniyaki sauce and sprinkle with the remaining green bits of the spring onion.

I've also decided to copy here my impressions on the purple chicha dessert I had at Astrid & Gastón:

Purple chicha pudding with Carlota cow's ice-cream, macambo crunch (amazonian fruit) and purple chicha rice cracker: I find the pudding quite dense, yet distracted by the ice-cream, with really, really tastes like milk. The cracker it's a bit of an excuse, a promise which is just a promise. But, what does purple chicha really taste like?

 

Nikkei's Ghost

Nikkei sounds far away and exotic. One could think it is a japanese pop band or even an insult, but it's actually a culinary movement, and it does have name and surname: Nikkei Cuisine. The details of its birth have been endlessly argued, as it always happens when something gains some popularity: was Columbus Italian? was he Spanish? I don't mean to compare Nikkei Cuisine's creation with the discovery of America, although it happened the same way: by chance. At the beginning of the XX century, Peru received numerous immigrants from Japan, stream that became torrent because of the Second World War. It's around these days that the nikkeis (word for japanese immigrants and their descendants) start to adapt their cuisine to the country they live in, creating, not knowing it, the Nikkei Cuisine, literally translated as immigrant Japanese food. In fact, the invention seems inevitable, and it's label as "invention" is almost generous. It would rather be an adaptation of the peruvian product to the Japanese cooking methods, or an assimilation of the habitat with a nostalgic attitude. However, it's not about adding a bit of wasabi to a stuffed rocoto and claim for the nikkei, but about the transformation being subtle and precise, and therefore very few performers are recognized as valid.

Nowadays there are many names in everyones mouth, ones better acclaimed than others. One of the most secure ones is Humberto Sato, who gained popularity in the 80s thanks to his restaurant Costanera 700. However, I've been lucky enough to eat in a bit more contemporary nikkei restaurant, Matsuei, which discreetly shows the distinguished footprints of chefs as Nobu Matsuhisa or Toshiro Konishi. In this video, Gastón, constant teacher, explains us all:

 

WE EAT AT... Matsuei

If there's a bar, always at the bar. In Matsuei's case it also includes the appeal of being able to watch the chefs cook, palliative for the anxiety or simple entertainment for the hunger. We start with sashimi, which melts in the mouth like a raw cotton candy. We follow with the typical ceviche-like-roll, not to be missed in the nikkei menus. Matsuei's one has ebi furai (breaded prawns), avocado, and tuna with a spicy mayo lemon sauce on the outside. The mixture is precise and perfect: the cooked of the prawn with the rawness of the tuna, the freshness of the avocado, the crunchy of the bread coat and creaminess of the sauce, the acidic of the lemon and the surprise spice. Next is a Matsuei maki, which has also prawns, but this time with cream cheese, avocado and eel's sauce on the outside. After the ceviche-like-roll I missed the lemon touch in the Matsuei maki. To finish we had a langoustine tempura which, although the tempura was light and exquisite, it's only Japanese. The line between nikkei and Japan is very thin.

 

RECIPE -Single-

If one doesn't know that single refers to a salad, when one is asked if they'd like some, it is not strange to remain puzzled. However, surely there have been stranger names, but not less compromising. Tatiana Perich, in her blog De boca en boca, explains: "It turns out that it has that name because it doesn't have meat and it doesn't need it. Besides it is said that in the countryside at the family lodgings (I imagine around the mountains), it was the favourite dish among single people, who wanted to keep in shape in order to get someone to marry."

Now that everything is clear, let's cook:

Ingredients

- 1 corncob
- Broad beans
- 1 chopped red onion
- 1 avocado
- Cheese
- 2 tomatoes
- Olives
- 1 carrot
- Limes
- Olive oil, vinegar, salt
- Coriander
- 1 potato
- Lettuce

Procedure

1. Boil separately the potato, corncob and carrot in cubes. Blanch the onion so it's not that agressive. Let everything cool down.
2. Peel the broad beans and cut them in two. Cut the cheese and peeled tomatoes in cubes. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, and season with lime juice, olive oil, vinegar and salt to taste. Decorate with avocado and olives.

 

Edible Sighs

Mi first contact with the Limean Sigh (a kind of dulce de leche Peruvian dessert) was thanks to an ice-cream with the same name. I couldn't conceive so many different textures in the same tub, and since then I've been captivated by this dessert. Like when you listen to a song and don't know it's a cover, it wasn't until much later that I had the opportunity to try the original, with great surprise due to my ignorance on its history. Thus I discover that the Limean Sigh, as well as the ceviche, has Arab grandparents. Its main component, the white manjar (milk, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla essence), was introduced in the colony times by the Spanish, at the same time influenced by the arab-marroq culture. Besides it comes with meringue, which gives it a foamy and crunchy touch. The cheesy of the name was invented by the poet José Gálvez Barrenechea's wife, who stated that the dessert was "soft and sweet as a woman's sigh".

It's clearly not a dessert to have twice because it's quite cloying, but it is with no doubt the perfect final sigh for a dying dinner.

 

Interview with Israel Laura

Israel Laura, as many South Americans, studied cooking in Spain, Europe. He went back to Peru rather by coincidence than by will, in a return that hoped to be temporary."Working as an executive chef I used to look at my colleagues at their 40s or 45s, who were practically living in the kitchen, without time for anything else. I decided I did not want the same for myself". Lima arrived then, with a "volver" (return) a bit more arid than Carlos Gardel's. After a while he ended up reencountering himself, and with him, his kitchen, creating the concept of "gourmet creole food"."Creole food used to be associated to big portions, cheap and of suspicious quality. On the other hand, gourmet sounds like small portions in big foreign dishes. I wanted to reconcile both". Thats how 550 restaurant was born, in which "food with soul" is served, according to Israel. In addition, he is currently opening a PiscoBar, to which he is now dedicated a 100 per cent, and of which he talks about with wide opened eyes.

PiscoBar's menu, like the year, is divided into seasons. This sustainable decision is common between almost every current cooking mind, which are already developing their menus around the season produce (thank God). This resolve is liberating and limiting at the same time, since it allows the menu to be continuously recreated, but the ingredients range is more reduced. Israel is of the opinion that having a fixed menu is synonymous of ties, so that's why he aimed for a blackboard at his restaurant. He doesn't want white tablecloth or fancy glasses either, but what he is looking for is to storm the lunch with a tasca (pub) feeling, more informal but not necessarily with less quality. "In Miraflores (Lima's district) you won't find anything like it. It's all crowded with tablecloths", he tells us, and it's true. It seems that Lima's fine cuisine is yet too polite.

Another relevant factor about PiscoBar is, obviously, the pisco. "There is no wine tradition in Peru like there is in Europe, here they just like borgoña, which is not so appropriate to have with food. The one and only local drink here is pisco." Hence his undercover decision to join pisco, which usually comes with party, to food, in a kind of harmonious experiment.

Besides restauranting, Israel has a TV program in which he cooks with different guests. He always tries to invite people who can teach or bring something new to the show, so that's why he has cooked with chefs but also with dentists or, as in the video below, nutritionists.
"Cooking, as far as it is an art, it is a need first", statement that reminds us that besides the one who cooks, there is the one who eats. 

 

RECIPE -Stuffed Rocotos & Potato Cake-

This dish is typical from Arequipa, south Peru. Although it might look like the same old stuffed courgettes to the inexpert European eye, stuffed rocotos's main difference is their spicy, very spicy nature. Another distinctive feature is that the stuffing, besides the guessable ingredients, contains peanuts, quite a common resource in this country's sauces.

 

Stuffed Rocotos

Ingredients

- 4 Rocotos (spicy peppers)
- 1 kg minced meat, half beef, half pork
- 1 chopped red onion
- Toasted peanuts
- 2 fresh eggs + 2 boiled eggs
- 100 g fresh cheese
- Beef stock
- Crushed garlic, to taste
- Salt, cumin, black pepper and sugar, to taste
- 1 can evaporated milk
- 1 splash of pisco
- 4 cheese slices

Procedure

1. Open the rocotos cutting the heads off as lids, and remove the seeds and veins from the inside. Bring to boil salted water and poach the rocotos for a few minutes. Throw away the water and repeat the process, first with salted water and then a third time with water, sugar and vinegar. This is done in order to reduce the spiciness of the rocotos, but they must not be cooked completely because they have to remain firm to be able to stuff them.
2. Sauté the onion and garlic in a saucepan, and add the minced meat when the onion is transparent. Add the splash of pisco and let it cook, adding stock when necessary so the meat doesn't dry out. After 3 or 4 min add the peanuts and chopped boiled eggs and let it cook for another 5 min. When it's ready, remove from the heat and let it cool.
3. Stuff the rocotos with the mixture. BEat the 2 whites to stiff peaks, and then fold in the yolks. Season y place a spoonful over each stuffed rocoto. Finally, cover with a cheese slice and their lids.
4. Cook in the oven at the highest temperature for 15-20 min or until the egg is golden and the cheese has melted.

 

Potato Cake

Ingredients

- Potatoes
- Cheese
- Eggs
- Milk
- Salt, black pepper, nutmeg, bay leaf

Procedure

1. Boil the potatoes till they are soft but firm. 
Infuse the milk with the black pepper, bay leaf and nutmeg.
2. Slice the potatoes and cheese in 1 cm slices. Place on a greased oven dish: one layer of potatoes, one layer of cheese, filling the gaps with the milk.
3. Beat the whites to stiff peaks and fold in the yolks the same way as in the rocotos. Spread over the oven dish and sprinkle black pepper over it.
4. Stick the dish in the oven at the highest temperature until the egg is golden and crispy.