Yesterday we went to Dendy Opera Quays for the screening of De Ollas Y Sueños (Cooking Up Dreams), a 2009 documentary directed by Ernesto Cabellos about the role of Peruvian cuisine as the catalyst that can make us work together towards a better society.
The session was sold out. Half of the crowd was Peruvian, there were people from other Latin American countries, as well as Aussies. The Consul General of Peru, Mr Jaime Burgos, was there, too. Robyn Smith, from the sponsor Movidas Journeys, explained the destinations and highlights of their gourmet tour to Peru.
The documentary starts with a journey to the jungle. In Iquitos, a couple with a tiny restaurant called De La Selva Su Sabor (“from the jungle its taste”, which is the way people in the jungle talk) make their living by offering tours and meals to people who arrive at the airport. The wife cooked juanes con cecina y tacacho, spiced rice stuffed in banana leaves with pork and cooked and mashed plantains, served with a chonta (a plant) and avocado salad.
In London, another Peruvian from the jungle shows us his restaurant called El Aguajal (aguajal is a tree from which the fruit aguaje is obtained). He also prepares juanes and other typical dishes and acknowledges that his English is primitive (we call it “Tarzan” English) but enough to run his business.
Still in the topic of food from the jungle, we shift one of the richest suburbs in Lima: San Isidro, where chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino uses ingredients from this region in his fine dining restaurant Malabar. He was present in Madrid Fusión, a festival in Spain where the best and latest food tendencies are exposed. There, Ignacio Medina (the festival’s presenter) and the then World’s number one chef Ferrán Adrià praised the quality of our produce and the importance of our culture.
I’d have loved to know what people had in their minds when the next scene hit the screen. A sea of people, most of them wearing purple, moving slowly with signs of pain in their faces, pushing each other. Kinda like a full stadium in a heavy metal concert but with entirely different public. And then the image of Jesus being carried in the middle of the crowd. That’s the procesión del Señor de los Milagros (procession of the Lord of the Miracles), a religious tradition that takes place in October and that to me is only for those who like to be smashed, inappropriately touched and robbed. Oh, and for those who like to eat, too. Street food is the norm there: choclo (white corn), picarones (fried “donuts” made with flour, pumpkin, sweet potato and yeast and covered with chancaca syrup), anticuchos (beef heart skewers), pancita (grilled cow gut), mazamorra morada (purple corn pudding), arroz con leche (rice pudding) and turrón de Doña Pepa (baked sticks made with flour, lard and aniseed, held together by chancaca syrup and sprinkled with hundreds and thousands).
In Madrid, a woman and her five children attend a small procession held on our Independence Day and find some street vendors who sell them mazamorra morada, arroz con leche and turrón de Doña Pepa.
In New York, a Peruvian couple prepare lomo saltado (stir-fried beef tenderloin with onions, tomato and yellow chili, served with chips and white rice) and pisco sour (pisco, lime juice, syrup and egg white cocktail) for their guests. In London, a Peruvian man prepares papa rellena (mashed potato shaped like a football with a minced beef stuffing and deep fried) for his guests, a couple of a Peruvian girl and a British guy who prepares the pisco sour.
In Paris, the owner and the chef of El Picaflor (the hummingbird) restaurant, both from Arequipa, do a great job in presenting our dishes in a visually attractive way to the French. The owner reveals his vision for Peruvian cuisine: “artisanal, universal and authentic”.
In Amsterdam, a young businessman owns Sabor Latino (Latin flavour). He migrated with a two-burner stove and a Nicolini cookbook (a classic in Peruvian households many decades ago). He opened his business and did everything: cooked, served and collected the money from customers. Every time he got stuck in the kitchen he rang his mum for advice. He says his customers love anticuchos and get surprised when they learn what they are made of. Other dishes they like are lomo saltado, ají de gallina (chicken stew with chili, bread, milk, Parmesan and pecans) and cebiche (seafood marinated in lime juice).
Then we go to the place where the staple of our diet comes from: the potato. At 3800 meters above sea level, humble farmers sow the tuber that has fed entire armies. There, in Cusco, we witness an ancient tradition that is kept until today: the pachamanca. In a hole that is dug in the soil, potatoes, sweet potatoes, meats wrapped in paper and broad beans in their shells are placed, alternated with hot stones and covered with grass and herbs, dirt and a plastic sheet. Forty to forty five minutes later everything is cooked and they enjoyed by the whole family. More than a cooking technique, this is the link that ties the people from the highlands to the pachamama, the mother Earth. The peak moment in the scene comes when one of the diners says he prefers his live, with enough food to survive, than the life of a wealthy man who is constantly worried about managing his wealth. Makes you think, right?
Also in Cusco, we go to the market where thick soups with mote (a kind of corn) are being boiled in big pots. Forget the tourist-oriented restaurants when you go to Cusco, food in the market is all you need.
Back in Lima, in one of the poorest suburbs called Villa María del Triunfo, heaps of people climb the dusty hill where the cemetery is located to visit their relatives in the day of the dead. They bring their loved ones’ favourite foods to place near their tombs or to eat there, sharing with them.
In Lambayeque, in the North coast, the tomb of El Señor de Sipán (an important character in one of the pre-Inca cultures) was found decades ago. The tomb, with many precious artifacts and jewellery that have helped understand part of our history, was found thanks to containers with food that were left when he died to nourish him in his journey to eternity. In the same city, a local young lady prepares arroz con pato (rice flavoured with coriander, pumpkin, chili and served with duck), killing the animal and removing the feathers with her bare hands, as it has been taught in her family by mothers to daughters for generations. In Pimentel beach, in the same city, Peruvian food researcher Bernardo Roca Rey prepares cebiche de camarones a la piedra (shrimp cebiche cooked with hot stones in a clay pot, which he says it’s the most primitive form of cooking he knows) and cebiche al pomo (cebiche in a jar, where layers of seafood, onions and chili are bathed with lime juice and then poured in a big bowl).
On August 15, 2007 a big earthquake hit the city of Pisco, to the south of Lima. 500 people were killed and many more had to live in tents for a long time while their homes were being rebuilt. That year, they got together for a Christmas dinner, where they cooked their most typical dishes: carapulcra (stew with pork, potatoes or dried potatoes, chili, peanuts and chocolate) and sopa seca (spaghetti with tomato, achiote and basil).
Then we witness a meeting with the most important Peruvian chefs: Gastón Acurio, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, Rafael Piqueras, Flavio Solórzano, Javier Wong, Teresa Izquierdo, Elena Santos, Bernardo Roca Rey, Marilú Madueño, Hajime Kasuga, Héctor Solis, among others. They discuss the present and the future of Peruvian cuisine.
The camera takes us to Pachacútec, a very poor village in Lima, where Gastón Acurio has created a cookery institute which brings top quality education to young guys and girls with no access to expensive schools.
In Astrid y Gastón Madrid, one of Gastón Acurio’s restaurants, young Peruvian chefs show the entirely Spanish crowd that Peruvian food and fine dining are not incompatible.
The chefs mentioned before put together a fundraising dinner to help the people of Pisco after the earthquake. Top Spanish chefs Juan Mari Arzak and Andoni Aduriz were in the kitchen, too.
Back in the chefs meeting, a few excited students from the Pachacútec institute take part in the chat with their idols, who tell them that the future of our cuisine relies in their hands.
The film was applauded and praised by the audience. Right after, chef Alejandro Saravia from A Taste Of Perú led the degustation he had prepared.
We were given lunchboxes with small plastic containers and were instructed not to start eating until the chef guided us through the samples.
The first course was a blue eye cod cebiche. The fish diced flesh was in one container and the seasoned lime juice was in a smaller one. We poured the juice on the fish and tasted the cebiche. Alejandro told us the best fish for cebiche is blue eye cod, snapper and sometimes leatherjacket (if you can find a fleshy one).
The second course was a quinoa salad with blanched capsicum, pine nuts and huacatay (black mint) dressing. Alejandro asked how many people were new to quinoa, and quite a few raised their hands. They said they liked it. The chef explained the nutritional value of the pseudo grain, including the fact that is gluten-free. Somebody asked where to get quinoa (looks like lots of people don’t really know what is in their supermarket aisles), a lady asked how to make the dressing.
The next course was mote (corn kernels, in two sizes) with huancaína sauce (chili, cheese, milk and soda crackers). Alejandro explained that here is only possible to buy Peruvian corn in tins, jars or dried, and recommended buying the jarred (less processed than the tinned ones) or the dried. I personally prefer to wait a couple of years, go home and stuff my face with fresh corn.
The next course was a small ball of causa (mashed potato with chili, lime juice and oil) with a few corn kernels as a side. The chef explained the story behind the name (the soldiers during the war with Chile being fed causa because there was nothing else to eat, while being told to eat it “for the cause”).
The dessert course was a purple corn jelly made with agar-agar instead of gelatine to make it vegetarian. I think it would have been better (though heaps more difficult) to have a mini alfajor or mini picarón instead.
People really enjoyed the degustation, you could tell by noticing the silence while they were eating. We, of course, tend to compare the flavours to the ones we’re used to, but for the real target of the tasting, it was perfect.
A Taste Of Perú offers degustation nights, cooking classes and gourmet tours. Their next degustation nights will be on the 8th and 9th of September (more info in their website), and their next cooking class will take place in the October’s Sydney International Food Festival.