Have you made changes to your menu?
Yes, there is innovation on the menu. We’re adding about 20% new dishes, but in reality they aren’t new to us.
Suddenly ceviche made with duck, although it has been known in regional cooking for 10 or 15 years, is better known and is becoming popular. So we’ve added duck ceviche for the first time, even though we’ve made it many times before. We’re also adding a pepián (a porridge made of freshly grated corn cooked with onions and ají peppers) served with guinea pig and corn nuts, a dish from the southern Andes, which is very delicious.
We’re going to create dishes with cecina (cured, dried meat) from the north, from Piura, not the one from the jungle nor the one from Lambeyeque, both of which are well known. It will be a Piura cecina but with some adjustments so that it won’t be tough to chew. I think it’s good that it is firm; some things should be very soft, others slightly chewy.
What is the difference between cecina of the northern coast and the one from Piura
Coastal cecina is made from beef, while the other is peccary (a pig-like mammal). The one from the coast is sun-dried in sheets. In some cases at chicha (alcoholic corn beverage) parlors it is oven-dried using a wood fire. What we’re making is a cross between cecina and seasoned/cured meat.
The wood fire is what provides the flavor. Air-cured meat doesn’t have wood, it doesn’t have the smoke, but it does have sun, sun and a marinade. Even though it doesn’t have the smoke, the wood and the kitchen vapors, which are usually very tasty, the seasoning and the sun work on the meat giving it a spectacular flavor. So I’m creating a blend, but I’m calling it cecina so as not to confuse the public. When you see a cured piece of meat, you see a slab of meat with flecks of ají peppers, which you add. I don’t use either the tenderloin or the leg, but instead the meat from the short ribs, which works well. In a bit of inspiration we serve the dish with several textures: yuca (cassava root) and banana, with a ceviche-like sauce on the side.
When are you introducing this wonder?
No more than one month away.
Is the restaurant already serving customers?
Yes it is.
Do you have plans to open in other places?
Yes, we’re in negotiations, but we don’t pretend that we want to be in every country. I prefer if we’re wanted that’s fine, not to force the issue, not to change yourself just to make a deal.
Chile, for example, is a country where our food is very popular. Argentina is also coming to appreciate Peruvian food, but they’re not ready yet. Colombia likes the food pretty well. And the U.S. is a good market for us. The rest of the world still needs to get to know our cooking better. We need to start with gastronomical promotions in other countries so that they can try our food. And also that their citizens get to know our country and that they return with memories of having enjoyed Peruvian food.
In Spain we’ve spoken with the cooking channel because we’re going to start a recipe exchange with them. They told us that 8 years ago Peruvian food was unknown, but now they’re interested especially after we told them how many hits Yanuq gets and where they come from; they’re looking us over.In general I think gastronomy has become popular all over the world.
What ingredients from the coast, the Andes, and the jungle appeal to you most?
Those that are available. There are many worthwhile ones, but they aren’t always available.
We’re now adding paiche (a large, fresh-water fish), commercially available and known. Not to exaggerate, but paiche is one of the 3 best fish in this country, whether you’re talking about the coast, the Andes, or the jungle, wherever you find river fish, paiche is among the top three. Its flesh is versatile, and it’s the best tasting. It has a slightly chewy texture; it has everything you could want. I use it a lot here in Lima; now it is farm raised so I can always get it.
Camu-camu (a grape-like fruit) is also one of the stars of the jungle. If there is anything that can compete with a lemon, it’s camu-camu. A drink made with it, served with ceviche, is just as refreshing as lemonade. It’s incredibly versatile in pastry-making, and in cold as well as hot foods. I’m about to introduce a suckling pig dish with camu-camu.
I already use cocona (a small tropical fruit) all the time. I make a tuna tiradito (a form of ceviche) served with a sauce made from the juice of cocona seeds--not the whole fruit--and it is delicious. It is a very natural tiradito in all senses of the word. There are only 3 or 4 ingredients and the effect is special. Many people think it is lemon. You need acidity for ceviche, and cocona’s flavor is neutral. Besides, it is easier to work with than lemons because it doesn’t have that high, stinging acidity, so you don’t need to temper it. I wanted to use it with Malaysian shrimp, now being raised in Moyobamba, but they’re not available yet, so I’m marinating local shrimp with it; add some sweet aji and it is really delicious. I have an inspired sauce using mishquina (fresh turmeric) as a base, it’s that yellow-greenish paste used to make Juanes (a banana-leaf wrapped mixture of rice and chicken). It’s that flavor that is the base of the sauce.
How wonderful; at Yanuq we have a recipe for tiradito with passion fruit that is also very good.
It’s one thing to make ceviche and another to make something “ceviche-like.” Ceviche is only made with neutral acids used on muscles: chicken, beef, whatever, and crustaceans.
I’ve seen the dish with passion fruit used more like a cold first course but it doesn’t have the power approaching a ceviche. I’m going to make it one of these days, but not yet. Chef Hajime Kasuga at “Ache”, for example, is producing some alcoholic ceviches that are very sweet. It isn’t tiradito, it’s a ceviche, but because he uses more sugar, it goes in another direction.
In Peru we’ve managed, with a minimum of time and ingredients, to create flavor by mixing few ingredients. In terms of time and profit, ceviche is the best fish dish you can have.
And now there’s the fad of glazed sweet potato.
Ceviche is aggressive, it needs a neutral but not a sweet accompaniment. That’s why I prefer fried or boiled yuca (cassava root); it gives you a pause, it calms your mouth a bit, and then you return to the attack. It’s a problem to go from acid to sweet.
Can we call everything you’re explaining fusion?
Well, if you go fusing ideas, then everything is fusion, just as calling things molecular—everything is molecular. When you mix styles, you create unusual styles, from the continent for example. A Peruvian tamal and one from Central America are similar. It’s like saying modern: modern cooking.
What you’re creating here is traditional cooking, but naturally it has to have change.
There has to be the evolution of the dish, and I don’t call that modern cooking. It’s the same cooking but it goes on changing.
APEGA (Peruvian Gastronomical Association) needs to assert itself, saying “here is the base” and there a variations, respect the variations. There are some ahead of their time. We don’t know if ceviche will one day end up as a foam, but what we do know is that 50 years ago the fish was marinated for 12 hours, and now it is different. So what do we say now, now that we’re no longer eating marinated fish, we’re eating a fish barely marinated, 100% raw. Yes, there have been changes. If I had made today’s ceviche at the time when it was marinated for 12 hours, they would have thought I was crazy.
For example, we speak of a tamal, and tamal is not a Quechua word, it is Mexican Náhuatl. Nevertheless, what could be more Peruvian than a tamal? Dishes are introduced and they become part of everyday life once the public likes them and accepts them.
What gave rise to the name humita?
“The Humita” is the real name for the preparation of a corn dough with fat, with the grated corn juices included, that is wrapped in a banana leaf or corn husk and steamed.
How do you find ingredients abroad? Visitors who want to repeat a recipe at home—how do they do it?
Where there are settlements of Peruvians, that solves the problem. Or take Japan, that has very few small, Peruvian restaurants, but nevertheless there are many Peruvian products available there. There are many places where you can find dried potatoes, ají peppers, etc. In the U.S. there is a restaurant called Andina (in Portland, OR) that produces gringo food using a Peruvian concept.
What are you doing on the social networks?
The steps we’re taking I’m reporting on Facebook.
Tell us about Mistura 2012 (a gastronomical fair in Lima).
It’s ready! It is going to last 11 days this year. It’s going to be in a larger space, not necessarily to offer more things but to accommodate people more comfortably.
Congratulations, we’ll see you at Mistura.