Peruvian cuisine is one of the driving forces of Peru’s economy and growing national pride. Like Japan or France, here food, and the people that make it, are respected at all levels of society. It is the most revealing aspect of Peruvian society, more so than music or futbol. A beautiful new film, entitled, De Ollas y Sueños, or Cooking Up Dreams, has recently opened to much acclaim. The film follows Peruvian cuisine around Peru and around the world.
Director Ernesto Cabellos Damián and Guarango, a Lima-based production company, traces the roots of the cuisine from the time of Pre-Colombian tribes to the modern day mixing of ethnicities. De Ollas y Sueños begins in the Amazon, walking through the Belen market in Iquitos and follows as food is sold and prepared in its most raw forms. Then we move to London and the Lima restaurant Malabar, where Amazonian ingredients have only begun to capture the attention of the world. Malabar chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, one of many of Peru’s top chefs that appear in the film, describes how restaurants like his are attempting to build on traditional cuisine. The film follows Schiaffino to Madrid fusion, as an international crowd is wowed by the range of undiscovered ingredients from Peru, such as Gamitana, a type of fruit eating piranha. There’s a future there Schiaffino says.
Next the film moves back and forth between the present and past, showing the criollo foods surrounding the Señor de Milagros procession in Lima. Most of the foods are created from scraps we are told. These leftovers are given flavor in the face of adversity, meaning that poorer Peruvians have given their heart and soul into the dishes and they have all become national staples eaten by all walks of life.
The film also examines Peruvian expats in New York, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, and elsewhere. Each person interviewed reveals their sense of connection to the cuisine and how, even though the ingredients are harder to find, they still manage to cook the food of their memories, often with the help of calls home. From here Ollas jumps back to Peru, examining the potato, markets, cebiche, and the food of the Moche. We see an incredible seen in Lima’s Villa Maria neighborhood, where family members bring the favorite foods of their dead relatives to share on the Day of the Dead. In one of the most important segments we see a meeting of all of the top chefs in Lima. They are talking how Peruvian cuisine can give people hope, can provide lives to farmers, and how important it is for inspired cooks to press on regardless of their financial background. In a moving quote, Tereza Izquierdo, the chef of the famous El Rincón que no Conoces, states to many of these CIA and Codron Bleu chefs “When I started cooking I had just wood and a stove.”
The film ends at Mistura, Lima’s annual food festival that is rapidly growing in prominence. We see large crowds sampling anticuchos and speeches from Gastón Acurio and other chefs. There’s a buzz reverberating through the crowd that you can feel long after the film ends.
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.