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   Chefs speak
    Pedro Miguel Schiaffino
Interview with Pedro Miguel Schiaffino

Respect for the ingredient and its origins is the cornerstone of his cooking. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), New York , and at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners (ICIF), Castiglioni d'Asti, Piedmont . He has worked in various Limeñan restaurants such as the Pabellón de Caza (the Game Pavillion) and La Gloria . During his five years in Italy he worked in such varied restaurants as Dal Pescatore (Canneto sull'Oglio, Mantua), La Locanda dell'Agnelo (Ameglia, La Spezia), and El Pinocchio (Borgomanero, Novara) which is run by Piero Bertinotti, whom he acknowledges as the one who shaped his style of cooking. At age 26 he opened Malabar , his principal restaurant. He has created the concept for La Pescadería , a store-restaurant for fish and shellfish. He now also has a catering company, Schiaffino Gastronómica, and Nikita , a restaurant which is open in the summertime. He is culinary consultant for Aqua Expeditions (Luxury Amazon Voyages), the Hotel Sol y Luna in Cusco , and Sodexho.

I would like to know something about what you have just done. You have just returned from Madrid Fusión and I would like to know about it, what the experience was like for you, what you found…
OK, let's see, the outcome of Madrid Fusión has been very positive for Peru , very positive for Amazon food, and I think that what I wanted to show and do there has happened; I wanted to get the public's attention and open their eyes to the bounty of the Amazon. So we made an 8 to 10 minute video about the Iquitos market in Belen where the public shops and we were able to get the attention of the press and chefs, and that is what I wanted. Our demonstration there was very simple. We prepared five dishes, all based on fruits and other products of the Amazon. But my presentation was not focused on the dish, nor the technique, nor what I could do without those Amazon products. The products themselves were the purpose. Plus the video, and the amount of information to pass along because this is a completely unknown subject. We were noticed and attracted the curiosity of many reporters, which is what we wanted to achieve.

Do you think the public recognized those Amazon products that you showed them?Well, Amazon cooking is its own style of cooking and it is difficult to speak of Amazon cooking because it involves nine countries, there is a certain identity, and there is a recognizable flavor but until now it has not been possible to create a single Amazon cuisine that the nine countries can embrace and identify with—it is a broad category, it exists, but no. There is a typical cuisine in each of the Amazon countries specific to that country, but there is no formal “Amazon cuisine.” But we can speak of cooking that uses ingredients from the Amazon. And that's what we went to do in Madrid , to try to bring some light on the subject, because many more people need to become aware, to investigate, to try out, to use (these products). On a Latin American level, not just in Peru . If foreign chefs are attracted and become interested, it awakens the curiosity of many people and this will make it possible for many more cooks to try them out, to investigate, to work with them…

Do you think there are other countries that are doing the same as you?
Venezuela has a couple of chefs who use Amazon products. Brazil has the most important representative, Alex Atala, whose cooking is more complex and refined than what we do here or that could be done in Venezuela . He doesn't use many ingredients, and few are from the Amazon. The real riches are here in Peru , and that is what needs to be demonstrated, that is what needs to be said. The world's richest area of naturally occurring fruits is Pacaya Samiria, and that's in Peru .

The greatest variety of fish in all the Amazon region is in ours. The Orinoco , in Venezuela , is very rich in biodiversity, in species and fruits and fish, but in Peru we have everything: all the ecological levels are here, where the fish come to spawn. It's where the fruits, it's where the majority of herbs, it's the most diverse part of all Latin America —it's important. That's what we went to say and I think we succeeded in doing that.

The Belen market has such variety and great activity…
It is one of the most important markets of the Amazon basin. The market of Manaus is very important, very important in variety of fish.

Within your cooking style, what inspires you to create the dishes you do?
My inspiration comes from many things: it could be from a conversation, a program I watch, in the street, a book, a trip, inspiration arrives in different ways; what it does is motivate you, working with new products is a motivation and it's what makes you keep going.

The Malabar menu—how did you conceive it? And why is it successful?
We're doing well here, we're very pleased, and each day we're improving and working better so I think it is the perseverance, the constancy and affection, love, and passion for what we are doing, and everything revolves around that.

The menu began with what I thought was worth creating, always based on the ingredients. For me I think the ingredient is more important than the technique; perhaps in the future technique will be more important but for now it is the ingredients and to let people know what we have, for people in our country to know what we have.

Now about these new techniques in use, those of Ferrán Adriá, molecular cuisine and all of that, are you using them?
Not yet, investigation is important, innovation in technology, concepts, methods, but I think it is more important to reveal and to discover what we have yet to discover. The regional cuisines in our country are totally forgotten, marginalized, and that shouldn't be. We need to place more importance on our regional cooking. Other than the concepts that we can use from them, we don't really know regional cooking in depth and that, for example, is a good font of inspiration for future cooks. I would love to see a good chef in every region of Peru who could go to Madrid Fusión and that there be a leading one in Cusco, another in Cajamarca, in Iquitos, in Arequipa, developing the use of their local ingredients.

That is what I like to convey with Malabar and with my cooking. When we began Malabar, the menu was developed thinking of that: using ingredients that I thought had a future, betting on them, and we have continued to learn and work with them. It's a mistake and also a virtue to have an ingredient to begin to show it off and make it known, for us to know it and for the public to know it. It's an apprenticeship for all of us: for our customers, for myself and my cooks; sometimes it hasn't gone well for us, but many times we have succeeded, and that's great, since I don't have either the time nor the money to find out about something and then put it into use…

And with what do you feel most comfortable?
With everything overall, I'm comfortable with everything: meats, fish and shellfish, it's all the same to me. But I haven't tackled baked goods.

What about desserts?
All kinds, just like our menu, we fashion the dessert from the ingredient. We aren't going to start with a baked custard, but rather that the ingredient leads us to a baked custard

Now, what do you think is the leading cuisine of the world?
I don't think that there is a leading one, but I do believe that Spanish cooking is the one that sets the standard, it is on the cutting edge, and Spanish cooks are the ones on the cutting edge, they lead the way.

I don't think either Spanish or French cooking is number one. But I do think that they both offer the best rather than, say, the cooking of Colombia . But is one better than the other? I don't think so. I don't there is a number one.

You run this restaurant, a fish store/restaurant, and anything else?
I'm here (Malabar), at La Pescadería, and at a catering company I have that operates out of the Club Empresarial.

How do you give yourself time off?
Working day after day you begin to organize yourself, you work in order to have more free time, you learn to delegate and to let others do what you have already done in order to move ahead.

How are you different from other Peruvian chefs?
What appeals to me is to work with new ingredients, with ingredients that are not commercial, that are not well known.

Working with the producer/grower or the fisherman who has that product, creating a supply chain so that that product or ingredient reaches your restaurant all the time; I think that this sets me apart from the others, it helps to.

Thinking back on your gastronomical beginnings, what about your ancestors?
My grandmothers, both on my mother's and my father's side, both loved baking and cooking. My father's mother made incredible things. And my maternal grandmother, her grandmother showed her, and she continues to do so.

Did you cook as a child?
Yes, we lived in the country, we raised animals, and there was a meat market and someone said to me “Why don't you studying cooking?” and I said “Could be.”

You studied here?
All was abroad, where I learned technique, the basics.

Do you think Peruvian cuisine could become number one?
Yes, by all means it is going to rank among the cuisines… I think the next food movement is going to be Peruvian. It is up to us to see how it goes, and the economic situation, we'll see what happens. I think it is going along a good path.

Among the new products, what do you think of the anchovy?
Seeing the anchovy, it's what happens with so many Peruvian products, we don't respect it and we don't give it its due. Sometimes the product suffers and goes through too many hands before it reaches your table. In the case of the anchovy, it is used for fish meal and isn't fished for fresh consumption and that is why it is impossible to get fresh anchovies in order to eat them fried, as you can in Europe , in northern Europe , where you can get fresh anchovies. Our anchovy is of a lesser quality, with less fat, it is very small and it can't be purchased fresh. When the anchovy movement began, you could get it fresh, but now you can't and if it isn't fresh it isn't good. You returned fish (to the supplier) and then they brought you fresh fish, but the next day it was the same all over again. Fried anchovies caught that same day are incredible, but used the next day their flavor is too strong, the fish turns rancid from one day to the next.

What will you specialize in next?
Searching, looking here and there, considering projects for the future. Consulting at the Hotel Sol y Luna in Cusco , Aqua in Iquitos ; I have Nikita (restaurant) in the summer months which keeps me busy on Fridays and Saturdays.

You hardly rest…
I'm young, I need to take advantage of that.

Who else went with you to Madrid Fusión?
I was invited and Gastón (Acurio) went to receive a prize.


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