In a couple of days I’ll be exchanging summer in the Rocky Mountains for the much cooler climate of Lima, Peru, where winter is beginning to show its chilling personality. I’m on a quest for culinary knowledge. I know how to eat Peruvian food – now I want to learn how to cook it. So, I’ve packed my bags and favorite knives, and I’m traveling to Lima for 9 1/2 weeks to attend one of the best culinary schools in the globe, Le Cordon Bleu.
My heritage is deeply rooted in the beautiful land of the Incas – I can easily say that Peruvian food is my favorite kind of food to eat. I just never learned how to make it. If you didn’t know this already, Peruvian food is now considered to be some of the best food in the world. This, of course, is no news to Peruvians, who have been eating like pampered foodies for generations.
Throughout the next few weeks I will be expanding more on Peruvian food because when I say that I love “Peruvian food,” I know I’m not appropriately conveying what Peruvian cuisine really encompasses. Peru doesn’t have only one “type” of food. There are literally hundreds of diverse dishes from the different regions of Peru – the coast, the Andes, the Amazon – and many, many subcategories, so to speak, of these dishes within the different regions.
Because Peru has the advantage of a very diverse geography, it enjoys an immense variety of ingredients, from fresh fish from the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, to astounding varieties of potatoes (over 3,000 – some scientists have cataloged thousands more), corn, chilies, vegetables, edible plants and flowers, herbs, domesticated and wild animal meat, fresh river fish and shrimp, etc. As a result, the cuisine is complex and exciting, with varying depths of flavor that resonate in one’s palate.
In addition to having the many different ingredients available, Peru’s cuisine also has major influences from other countries and cultures, which add to its uniqueness. There was an initial influence from the Spaniards, when Peru was conquered and colonized. Later, Peruvian food benefited from Chinese, Japanese, African, and Italian culinary traditions.
My experiences eating Peruvian food, whether in London, New York, San Francisco, Miami, or Denver have not been terrible – but they also have not been memorable. I think I may be more satisfied if I cook the food myself. That’s what my father did for his family.
My father was an amazing chef. He learned how to cook out of necessity when he was very young. As it turns out, he had outstanding culinary talent. He did not cook for a living, but he worked in the food service industry for over 3 decades at a high executive level, yet this did not impede him from producing delicious, mouth-watering dishes that connected me to Peru, my family, my past – whether I was living in Acapulco, Johannesburg, or Mexico City. What was his secret? I used to ask him why his food was so delicious, and his reply was always, “Because I made it with love.” Period. I think that if I had wanted to know how he prepared the food, then I should have been helping him in the kitchen – which I didn’t. (I kick myself over missing those invaluable lessons all the time!) I know that cooking with soul is an important part of the process – I get that. But there’s more to it than that.
So, now, I’m on a quest to learn the techniques, theories, and practices necessary to produce some fine Peruvian dishes, and to later share the knowledge and experience with others, by cooking for food lovers around me – and by sharing recipes and methods of cooking, al estilo peruano, on this blog.