Joining a growing list of foreign chefs who have fallen in love with a Peruvian and followed them back to Peru (see Astrid Gutsche and Hervé Galidie) is Jason Nanka, an ecologically minded Australian chef, who recently opened a restaurant, Nanka, in the Lima suburb of La Molina with his Peruvian wife Lorena.
The couple is helping spur progressive culinary concepts that still haven’t hit Peru on a wider scale as of yet. For example they have a kitchen garden, something only Central, Virgillio Martinez’s restaurant in Miraflores, has done. This one is in full view of diners. There’s herbs and aji, all growing lushly. They also have formed close relationships with many of their producers. Organic is the norm here, not the exception. Even in a society that drinks notoriously bad beer, Nanka has probably the best beer list in Lima, with everything from Delirium Tremens to an artisanal brew made in Ate.
On a recent visit I noticed that the waiters were particularly excited about the olive oil being used. Hailing from Ica, they explained why it was created and how the taste might be different. It’s refreshing.
Nanka was kind enough to answer a few questions for New World Review:
NWR: Why did you first come to Peru?
Jason Nanka: I first came to Peru because of Lorena. We met in the restaurant that I was working in and soon after I traveled with her to Peru to spend my vacations with her.
NWR: Why did you decide to open a restaurant here?
JN: More than a decision I think that it was more like destiny. However there are many good reasons to open a restaurant here in Lima at the moment. The economy is growing fast and so too the gastronomic scene. Lima now hosts one of the biggest food fairs in the world called Mistura, which attracts the best chefs in the world.
NWR: What has surprised you about Peruvian food?
JN: I am amazed with the variety of traditional recipes that exist in Peru. If you ask me to name traditional plates of food from Australia I could probably name 5 off the top of my head. In Peru there are hundreds.
NWR: What is your favorite Peruvian ingredient to work with?
JN: I really love the Peruvian yellow chile (Ají Amarillo). It has a very unique flavor that is not present in any of the mainstream chilies that we use in Australia. In the restaurant we probably use 30kg of it a week and that is very little compared to the traditional Peruvian restaurants.
NWR: Is there any ingredient from home that you miss?
JN: The ingredient I miss the most is good quality local beef. Apart from that I miss the Asian produce markets in Australia that offer a lot of ingredients that cannot be found easily here.
NWR: Favorite restaurant in Lima other than your own?
JN: I don’t actually have a favorite restaurant that I like or always go to. I like to try something different all the time. Some of the places that I have enjoy are, Fiesta, Central, Astrid y Gaston, Rafael, huariques and markets.
NWR: What is Nanka trying to do different from other restaurants in Lima?
JN: We work with the ingredients that Peru has to offer with respect to their roots but we also have an outside view and open mind. We are focusing a lot in trying to work with sustainable and organic ingredients as well. I like to think that there will be a lot of restaurants in Peru thinking organic and sustainable in the near future. A country with the bio-diversity such as Peru deserves a lot of respect in this sense. There are too many good things to lose.
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.