Peru’s top chefs share their updated classics

As the country’s cuisine begins to assert itself on the global stage, its brightest kitchen talent explain how they’re turning traditional treats into modern eats.

27 February 2019
Latin Americanmenurestaurantsseafood
image credit: Kjolle

While ceviche is the go-to Peruvian dish, making its mark on menus around the world, there’s a lot more to savour than lime-juice-cured fish, delicious though it is. 

The Pacific-Andean country is full of contrasts: hundreds of miles of mountain range straddle the southeast, while the lush Amazon dominates the northeast; elsewhere, the Pacific’s broad, fresh offerings lap the coastal areas. Each region defines a certain gastronomical cultural heritage.

Here, four top Peruvian chefs share how they have reinterpreted traditional recipes to reach a wider audience at their restaurants in Lima.

Pachamanca by Pía León at Kjolle

A traditional dish that originates in Peru’s Andes, pachamanca has elements of pit cooking. Translating as earth (pacha) saucepan (manca) in the Quechua language, this system uses pre-heated stones to cook food, usually wrapped in leaves, then covered with more stones. Making use of a wide range of Andean ingredients, from proteins to vegetables and herbs, meats such as guinea pig or mutton are marinated first then cooked together. Spicy salsas and dressings are important for finishing this dish. At Kjolle, head chef Pía León uses beef instead of more traditional Andean protein, and speeds up the production process by slow cooking the meat in her kitchen, rather than in the ground.

I’ve eaten pachamanca since I was little; it’s a dish you eat on weekends with your family. The first time you see it cooking is lovely because it’s so surprising to see the sequence of steps that go into cooking it, and the same thing happens when you uncover it. 

Pachamanca is very versatile: meat such as pork, chicken or guinea pig, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans and even cassava are cooked in the pachamanca, and mixing up proteins and vegetables makes it more interesting. Everything is previously dressed with Andean herbs, such as chincho (a native aromatic herb) and huacatay (also known as Peruvian black mint). At Kjolle, we redesigned this dish, using short ribs slowly cooked in a pot then garnished with burnt corn. The smell of the charred herbs is very emblematic.

Paiche escamoso by Francesca Ferreyros at IK

After eight years living in Asia, returning to Peru was a voyage of rediscovery for chef Francesca Ferreyros, who fell head over heels with the Peruvian Amazon due to the similarities it shares with southeast Asia. Every trip to the Amazon offers up new ingredients and techniques that never fail to surprise her, she says, and paiche escamoso (scaly paiche fish), which she serves at IK, is her tribute to these magical journeys:

The base of this dish is paiche (Arapaima gigas), one of the largest river fish, and it has beautiful scales. Other components include Amazon fruit cream, ají negro (made from yuca brava or cassava), cecina (Amazonian jerky) and the sacha culantro herb. The base uses a cream made from masato, a sacred drink taken in the Amazon, and sliced chestnuts to represent its scales; all the flavours in this dish are typical in the jungle.

image credit: IK

I say typical, but we present them in a more refined way while still showing off just how delicate these products are. Plus, the techniques we use in this dish are all inspired by the Peruvian jungle. Take masato. This fermented drink is based on yuca that’s usually chewed by the indigenous people then spat out and left to ferment. At IK, we boil it down with honey from Madre de Díos in the Amazon to make a paste that ferments for 10 days before adding water and straining it.

Locro by Matías Cillóniz of Mó Bistró

At Mó Bistró, chef Matías Cillóniz changes up the menu according to product availability, but also gears dishes towards healthy eating. One item that all Peruvians eat practically from birth is the vegetarian locro stew, but Cillóniz has added his own twists:

My Peruvian locro is made from macre, a round, green-skinned squash with orange-yellow flesh, and this dish is eaten on the coast and in the highlands. It’s all about home cooking; my grandma used to make it when I was little. It’s very easy to make: you throw everything together – potatoes, peas, onion, chilli peppers, garlic, oregano, and other herbs and condiments, depending on the region it’s being made in. In the sierras, they add muña (a mint-like plant often used in traditional remedies); in the north, a little huacatay. Each region has its own special touch. It all cooks together in one big pot until it all softens, and at home it’s usually served with rice and a fried egg on top.

image credit: Mó Bistró

I had a year between opening a new branch of Mó and cooked a lot for myself at home. It helped me learn to cook healthier for myself, and, in the future, for my clients. I also feel cultural responsibility for Peru and preserving Peruvian techniques and recipes.

In my version of locro, I mix up several different squash – including the skins to make an infusion – and play around with the herbs. I switched potato for sweet potato, peas for beans, and added loche, a very creamy and aromatic squash from the north of Peru that loses its aroma when cooked. I made some raw dehydrated chips to add in extra textures of squash and topped it with a free-range egg. It’s my veggie dish, accompanied with a little salad and finished with apple vinegar. It’s always popular as it’s a well-known dish and also very tasty.

Pulpo al olivo by Mitsuharu Tsumura at Maido

At Maido, Mitsuharu Tsumura has brought Nikkei cuisine – dishes that bridge Peruvian and Japanese gastronomy – into the spotlight. Guinea pig nigiri, octopus and fish chorizo, bacalao marinated in miso and cheesecake made from tofu and sweet potato are some of his creations that have raised the bar for this gastronomical genre. But one classic Nikkei dish is very close to his heart, and while it started out as a snack at his fine-dining establishment, pulpo al olivo is now a permanent fixture.

Pulpo al olivo is a very well-known dish in Peru created by Rosita Yimura, one of the pioneers of Nikkei cuisine. Why is octopus in olives considered Nikkei? First, when Japanese immigrants (the Nikkei) came to Peru, as did the Italians, Peruvians didn’t eat much octopus, and certainly not in Lima. It was seen as complex and not very nice. The Nikkei would go fishing for it, and there was plenty. Rosita invented this dish, cooking the octopus, then slicing it up as if it were sashimi, then adding an olive emulsion, like a mayonnaise, so it looked like carpaccio or tiradito (a raw fish dish similar to ceviche).

That dish has been prepared in cevicherías all over Peru and I created a tribute to it, which is still on the menu at Maido. I make a tofu with the olive sauce, sealing the octopus so it’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and I add black quinoa for additional crunch. When I first added it, it was a snack, but now it’s a fixture on the menu.

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