In advance of their soon to launch Food blog, El Comercio, the largest newspaper in Peru, recently interviewed me on the presence of Peruvian food in the United States: Periodista de EE.UU. tiene en la gastronomía peruana a la razón de su vida | El Comercio Perú.
Here is the translated text of the interview:
1. Is Peruvian cuisine well ranked among the editors of major international media -such as National Geographic Traveler or the New York Times?
NG: I think right now most editors see Peruvian food as the latest trend, but they really don’t appreciate how diverse it is because there are very few really good Peruvian restaurants in the United States. Of all of the Peruvian restaurants in the United States, probably 90 percent are pollo a la brasa. Don’t get me wrong, I love pollo a la brasa, but it isn’t exactly breaking any new culinary ground. We need more criollo restaurants, more cevicherias, and more chifas here to really make an impact.
2. As a food journalist, which do you think are the reasons for the new popularity of the peruvian cuisine?
NG: I think it is a combination of things. I think foodies in the United States are always on the look out for the next big thing and all of these elements are beginning to align themselves around Peru, partly because of a few passionate people. Gastón opening a branch of La Mar in San Francisco was a big deal. The discovery of Peruvian Pisco by mixologists in the top bars in New York and Los Angeles is directly a result of the hard work from people like Melanie and Lizzie da Trindade-Asher, two Peruvian sisters who own Macchu Pisco. Also, I think the increase in tourism to Peru is definitely helping too, which is why restaurants that serve more than pizza or hamburgers in Cusco are so important for spreading the word.
3. In your opinion, what do you think we need to improve in order to climb up to the level of other world known cuisines?
NG: I think Peru should follow the example of Thailand. It’s a country with a wide tourist appeal and incredible food that can be found at the street level. Ten years ago you could only find Thai restaurants in large cities, but now they are everywhere because it is so accepted now. In my neighborhood in Brooklyn there are probably fifteen Thai restaurants within a ten-minute walk of my apartment. While I think you also need big name chefs like Rafael Osterling and Pedro Miguel Schiaffino to open up restaurants in the United States, the biggest impact is going to come from the small, simple, family run restaurants opening up outside of the major cities.
4. What makes the peruvian food different or even unique?
NG: Like Thai food, Peruvian cuisine is very diverse. There’s such a wide range of ingredients and there are so many variations of dishes between different regions in Peru. I can order ceviche in Tacna and then one in Tumbes and it will be completely different. That’s a thing of beauty. A restaurant getting their ingredients from local sources is something that we have only begun to appreciate in the United States, yet it is normal in Peru.
5. You look like a big fan of our food. How did you first know it? In your Website you say you’ve taken classes. Why is that?
NG: I’m a huge fan. Maybe the biggest gringo fan there is. When I first came to Peru I was really surprised by the quality of the food and questioned why I had never heard about it before. Then I had the opportunity to write a guidebook of Peru and spent almost a year traveling the country and eating every different dish I could.
Being a travel/food writer I always want to gain a better understanding of how food is prepared, so every once and a while I’ll take a class or two wherever I am traveling. I haven’t taken any formal classes in Peru, though I’d definitely like to in the future.
6. What is your favorite dish?
NG: That’s a difficult question. There are days when all I want to eat are ceviche or tiradito, then there are days when I want criollo: tacu tacu, anticuchos, lomo saltado, or picarones. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I’d probably say ceviche.
7. Is the food really known among common people in the States or other countries or just among specialized journalists and critics?
NG: I think Peruvian food is known by maybe many common people in large cities, but not yet the rest of the country because there just aren’t any Peruvian restaurants.
8. Tell me about the “peruvian chicken” in Washington DC. Do you know about it?
NG: I know there are a ton of pollo a la brasa restaurants in D.C., but I haven’t tried any of them sadly. Hopefully sometime soon.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.