By Patrick Hieger

[Coco Esteves]

[Coco Esteves]

Although the team behind Lima Pop-Up has infused many elements of native Peruvian and Bolivian culture into their dinners this year, nothing could have prepared us for Yunta, which took place Monday night in Lima’s Miraflores district.  Equal parts dinner, performance, art installation, and DJ session, Yunta was everything a pop-up should be, and a whole lot more.  And while the pop-up dining trend has certainly waned in popularity by comparison to the overwhelming amount of itinerant dinner options that were available last year, it seems that chef Ricardo Laca and his team could be the group to keep the idea going.

Yunta might not have happened, had it not been for the same dinner’s popularity in Bolivia three weeks prior.  Ricardo Laca, the chef in charge of Lima Pop-Up, was also a key player in the Roca brothers’ pop-up dinners in Lima on the last leg of their world tour, and certainly his plate full.  However, with happy diners and a sold-out dinner in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Laca and his team decided to replicate the event in Lima, taking advantage of the crowds at Mistura who were already ready to eat.

While dinner was the main event of the evening, featuring nine Peruvian and Bolivian-infused courses as paired with cocktails from Bolivian mixologist JP Caceres, the performance piece and art installation by Pancho Basurco, entitled Anudando La Tierra, that kicked off the night, was just as important to the show.  El Rocoto, where dinner was held, a standard two-story restaurant with otherwise unmemorable interiors, was transformed into playground of colors, smells and sounds, complete with a shaman, a pre-Colombian band, and the steady burn of incense.

Before dinner began, we were treated to the blessings and consequent chants of a pot-smoking shaman, who sat outside the restaurant’s front door, humming along to the sounds of native flutes and conch shells.  Basurco, the artist, with his heavy duty mullett and belt full of fabric that we would later use, unearthed several strings of the same fabric from a pot of dirt that sat in front of the shaman.  Anunado La Tierra is a symbolic art installation, that is literally and phsyically designed to bind participants together.  The fabric he unearthed was tied to a greater network of wire and fabric scraps that were laced throughout the restaurant.  He eventually took the pieces from his belt, and encouraged us to tie our fabric to other pieces, creating a long chain of knots, what would bind us for the evening.  Knots tied, incense burning, and nearly two hours after we all arrived, dinner began.

Dinner was prepared at the hands of Ricardo Laca, Ricardo Cortéz, Jaime Barbas, and Dennys Yupanqui, a mix of talent from Peru, Bolivia, and Uruguay.  Unlike so many other pop-ups, Yunta had a good deal of sponsorship, and therefore organization, which made it feel as good as any other restaurant experience.  The chef team was thorough, with a backing team of cooks, and the service staff was well-trained.

Courses ranged from a delicately plated ceviche to a risotto of palm hearts, a splattered asparagus with pork belly dish, and a creamy chocolate ‘bizcocho’ for dessert.  JP Caceres, the Bolivian native who has spent most of his life in Washington DC and speaks Spanish with hints of English, paired each course with hand-crafted cocktails, ranging from chicha-infused pisco sours to a ‘ponche de mocochinchi’ served in a plastic bag with a straw.  After a few courses, potent cocktails did start to feel quite heavy, but his flavor pairings with each course were spot on.

As with most pop-ups, the food was quirky, interesting, and overall fun, if not always perfect.  Then again, that’s the point of a pop up, serving food for one night only, often with little or no practice with each dish.  What makes the Lima Pop-Up dinners great, though, is that they’re current, and very well done.  A good deal of comments overheard after the plethora of dinners that took place last year were that the service was awful, the meal took to long, and the food just wasn’t enough to match the value of the reservation.  None of those were the case on Monday.  There was also a crazy art installation and the aroma of weed, which never detracts from a dining experience.

Lima Pop-Up currently has no future dinners scheduled, though they have been operating roughly on a three-month schedule.  As one of the few remaining groups dedicated to the art of the moveable feast, and seemingly to the art of interesting collaboration and a total experience, we’ll be looking for their next installation.  Here’s hoping that the Shaman stops by, too.

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