Chefs Club Chronicles continues as Aaron Arizpe heads to Lima.
I work for Chefs Club, an innovative restaurant group where we showcase the talents of incredible chefs from all around the world. In Aspen and in our New York flagship, our culinary team, led by 20-year Alain Ducasse veteran Didier Elena, executes a curated collection of signature dishes from a dynamic lineup of star chefs. In March 2017, we opened the first Chefs Club Counter, a fast-casual iteration of the same concept. On top of all that, we frequently host guest chefs for residencies that can last from as short as one night to as long as one week.
As Chefs Club’s Curator, it’s my job to answer two questions: Why this particular chef, or this specific dish? And why now? I stay plugged in to what’s happening in food all over the globe, and place great importance on the timeliness and relevance of what we feature in our restaurants. So I travel widely with a voracious appetite. These are my stories.
Lima, like a good ceviche, reveals its flavor in layers, and its culinary traditions are woven as colorfully as Peruvian textiles. Cuisine here has taken an introspective look in recent decades, with local chefs acting as ambassadors, traveling the world to share the indigenous ingredients that showcase Peru as the most ecologically diverse country in the world. Yet four days spent in this frenetic capital city were enough to teach me that cultural influences from places like China, Japan, and West Africa have also created fascinating fusions. These are the chefs who collectively tell that story.
Is the secret in his leche de tigre, the lightning bolt of heat and acidity that strikes through the dish? Is it the freshness of his products, the limes from a town called Chulucanas, the fish that come from more than a dozen different sources around Lima? Or is it simply the singular genius of this nearly seventy-year-old crime reporter turned chef? Either way, the ceviche at Chez Wong tip-toes so close to perfection that you will drive yourself mad trying to understand how.
Chez Wong, Enrique León García 114, Santa Catalina, Lima, 13, +51-975-483-239
Virgilio Martinez with Pia León and Malena Martinez
“We try to surprise ourselves first, and then surprise people,” says Virgilio of the creative process at Central. Indeed, many of their discoveries come from an introspective search for native foods and traditions all around Peru. His wife Pia helms the kitchen, where each dish on our seventeen-course tasting menu reflects a different altitude and ecosystem within the country. Meanwhile, his sister Malena leads the exploratory research and ingredient cataloguing efforts through what they call the Mater Iniciativa.
Central, Santa Isabel 376. Miraflores, Lima, +51-124-16721
His friends call him Micha, and this affable chef makes you feel right away like you are among them. Born in Lima and of Japanese descent, Tsumura bridges these two rich cultures at Maido, through a cuisine known as Nikkei. Traditional techniques are employed with as much frequency as modern, and you’re as likely to have perfect, hand-shaped nigiri, liquid nitrogen-frozen leche de tigre snow, and Wagyu short ribs braised for 50 hours in soy, mirin, and sake.
Maido, 399 San Martin St., Milaflores, Lima, +51-1446-2512
“We don’t have wi-fi. Talk to each other,” says a sign on the wall at La Picantería. But we sit in silence, captivated by the row of fresh fish that sit on ice along the counter in Hector Solis’ kitchen. There are nearly a dozen types to choose from, and nine different preparations ranging from escabeche to a whole fish tossed on the grill or in the fryer. We opt for ceviche and an Afro-Peruvian tripe stew called cau cau, and watch as the party spills out on the sidewalks here in working-class Surquillo.
La Picantería, Francisco Moreno 388, esquina con Gonzales Prada, Surquillo, +51-241-6676
A palatial hacienda called Casa Moreyra is flanked by a picture-perfect olive grove in Lima’s upscale San Isidro district. It is also home to Astrid y Gastón, the flagship restaurant of Gastón Acurio, the country’s most recognizable chef and one of the most influential figures in food internationally. Since the mid-90’s, he has built scores of restaurants, written several books, become a fixture on television, and acted as Peru’s most prominent culinary diplomat. A single bite of crispy-skinned cuy (guinea pig) wrapped in a purple corn crepe is enough to see how he got there.
Astrid y Gaston, Av. Paz Soldán 290, San Isidro, Lima 27, +511-442-2777
Plumes of smoke frame the silhouette of an older women basting sizzling skewers of beef heart on a fiery grill. That’s Vargas, and she’s been the master of these flames for over forty years, the proprietress of a popular pushcart that grew into a perennially packed restaurant called Anticuchos Grimanesa. The five hundred year-old recipe for anticuchos involves cumin, garlic, vinegar, and deep red ají panca chili powder, and is served steaming hot with boiled potatoes underneath to soak up the juices.
Anticuchos Grimanesa, Ignacio Merino 475, Miraflores, Lima, 18, +51-989-305-122
Pedro Miguel Schiaffino
He attended culinary school in the United States and worked for years at some of the best restaurants in Italy, but Pedro Miguel Schiaffino left his heart in the jungles of the Amazon. An intrepid researcher, he spends much of his time there, cataloguing and later utilizing the sort of ingredients that are, at best, misunderstood but would otherwise likely be forgotten altogether. At his Lima restaurants Malabar and ámaZ, one can try ingredients like paiche, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, and copoazú, a tropical rainforest fruit similar to cacao.
ámaZ, Av. La Paz 1079 Miraflores, Lima, +511-221-9393
Lima has a rich sandwich culture, with twenty-four hour restaurants slinging crusty rolls filled with everything from chicharrón to Chinese sausage. So while I wasn’t surprised to find great bread here, I was shocked to find an excellent croissant. Jonathan Day, the theater student-turned-baker behind El Pan de la Chola, is the self-taught mastermind behind both items. He mills local grains in-house, and his pain au chocolat would be an equally fitting breakfast in Le Marais as it is here in Miraflores.
El Pan de la Chola, La Mar 918, 18 Miraflores District, Lima, +511-221-2138