I came to know Jason Nanka and Lorena Valdivia quite well over the past year. They reached out to me through social media well before they opened their Lima restaurant, Nanka in La Molina, and we continued to stay in touch. I exchanged emails with them probably at least once a month and met with them on two occasions at Nanka.
Javier Wong, the chef owner of Chez Wong in Lima, is one of the most legendary chefs in Peru. His restaurant isn’t fancy, far from it. It’s in one room of his house, in the rough and tumble district of La Victoria not far from a line of auto repair garages. There’s no menu. He serves a ceviche, always using Pacific sole; enormous ones.
Now that he has more than thirty some restaurants set in a dozen countries, many of which are fusion concepts like Chinese-Peruvian or Italian-Peruvian, I sometimes forget just how revolutionary Gastón Acurio’s original restaurant, Astrid y Gastón in Lima, was and continues to be. I don’t think I will make that mistake again.
I randomly met Romina Puente-Arnao at a famed fried yucca stand in Lima, Peru’s Mercado Palermo earlier this year while filming for the Travel Channel’s Street Eats International and was excited to learn that she was helping launch her family’s pisco label in the United States this year. While most Peruvian piscos are far less mass produced than those in Chile, the brands that have made the trip north thus far are some of the largest labels and are no longer family owned and operated, which is a generally a defining characteristic of Peru’s, mostly small batch, piscos. The brand is called Capurro Pisco in the US and Nazca Pisco in Peru. While Nazca Pisco has been around for decades in Peru, Capurro just launched in Miami this September and has plans to make its way up the East Coast later this year. It’s a much needed addition to the American Pisco market. Puente-Arnao was kind enough to give us a detailed story of Capurro:
I was recently given a sneak peak at Solbeso, a spirit being distilled from fair trade fresh Peruvian cacao fruit. It’s the first spirit of its kind. It’s not a chocolate liqueur, but a clear spirit with a consistency like that of pisco. It is said to have the same the chemical benefits of dark chocolate, yet none of the sweetness or flavor. On tasting it, I smelled chocolate notes immediately as soon as I brought the glass to my nose.
Peruvian Food & restaurant news fot the Summer of 2012: the Peru Sabe documentary premier, the opening of Raymi in NYC, La MarNYC opens a patio, Ricardo Zarate moves Mo-chica in LA, Mistura chnages locations, and Virgillio Martinez opens Lima London in the UK
As most of my work as of late involves eating and restaurants in Lima, Peru, I am often asked where to go. What is the cevicheria of the moment? Who is the hottest chef of the moment? Where should I go for a taste of the Amazon? Who has the best anticuchos? Which of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants should I go to? I could literally go on for days describing where to eat in Lima. While I’m usually scouting out huariques and market stalls in obscure districts, though for the passing writer or foodie that wants to know what is in right now, here is my Lima IT list.
Nikkei restaurants have been on the rise in Lima for the past several years. The Peruvian-Japanese fusion spots are home to some of the most technically skilled chefs anywhere in Peru, though with the addition of sophisticated restaurants such as Central and Manfiesto in recent years they have been overshadowed. That is about to change. Hajime Kasuga, you know him from his work at Hanzo, a Nikkei restaurant that was exported to Santiago, has opened this week his new restaurant: H, or Ache.
When he was a child Giacomo Bocchio saw Javier Wong, cook in his Lima restaurant. He then wanted to be a chef. Wong has that effect. He now says Bocchio could be the best chef in Peru, if not the world. Wong always thinks in those kinds of terms.