Como Sur | South American Gastronomy

All posts in Uncategorized

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

Virgilio Martínez: The Man Within The Chef

In the second part of her story on eating and spending time in Cusco, Peru with chef Virgilio Martínez, staff writer Lauren Barragan gives us a closer look at who the chef really is.  In her first piece, we got to hear about the experience of dining at Senzo, the chef’s Cusco outpost that focuses on food sourced exclusively from the region.  Here, we get to know a little more about what drives the chef and how he handles fame, celebrity status, and a whirlwind lifestyle.  Serenity is in the mountains.

By Lauren Barragan

When one thinks of Cusco, there are a few first things that come to mind.  Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and beautiful land surrounding you in every direction, all with a deeply rooted story of the locals’ history.  It is here that a beautiful story can be told through all of the resources Cuscqueños have embedded in their rich, lush soil.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

For Chef Virgilio Martinez, this is the foundation and principle of his latest talked about restaurant, Senzo.  Senzo is one of several namesakes that Martinez has staked and transformed into an epicenter for people from all over the globe to come and try to get a piece of the experience.  There are many great chefs who can create a beautiful dish that is both aesthetically pleasing to the eye, as well as enticing to the senses.  Martinez has managed to check those both off in all of his restaurants, from Lima’s hot spot that never dies down, Central, to his international and first Peruvian Michelin star awarded Lima in fog city, London.  However, Senzo has something that the other metropolitan beauties cannot ever replicate–it rests within the very corazón that is Peruvian cuisine: Cusco.  And there is no question when you have tasted your first bite of a Martinez masterpiece on a plate, that it is, without a doubt, channeling all of the mystical beauty and timelessness that is Cusco.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

To be fair, here is the disclaimer.  The man behind the curtain is about to be revealed for what he really is.  This chef is anything but the typical hyped up, spotlight consuming, too-cool-for-school chef that one easily runs across in this industry.  Chef Martinez, in fact, upon meeting, seems very much more like Virgilio; a Peruvian every day person, just like you or I, with a passion for the land and a huge heart for anyone who shares his love of food.  While in Cusco, he was kind enough to take the time to meet an eager food enthusiast, with no known name and not even so much as a business card to hide behind.  I walked into Senzo, a non-Spanish speaking gringa with a passion for good food, admiration for anyone who can create it with soul, and not much more.  Back home in California that wouldn’t take you far, aside from being the equivalent to a chef groupie, which means little to nothing.  However, this chef is no ordinary chef.  He is his sous chef.  He is his prep cooks.  He is his hostess that greets you at the entrance.  He is his farmers that pluck the very food you eat from the earth, leaving their fingerprints upon your meal.  Virgilio is as true as they come and I was so very lucky to spend a day with him and get to know the man behind the chef coat.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

Upon arriving in Cusco, I happened to catch Virgilio Martinez on his one day in Cusco, away from the bustle of Central, to check in on his restaurant and “reconnect with his inspiration” as he referred to it.  Within mere minutes I was asked to accompany him and his good friend to spend the day in the Sacred Valley. Just like that, they both welcomed me with open arms. It was a no brainer of course, taking me all but the two and a half seconds to compose my internal excitement, to say yes.  And just like that we were off.  Chef Martinez sat with me on the drive, telling me about Mater Iniciativa, an initiative started by he and his team, in an effort to explore the vast world of undiscovered or long forgotten ingredients that are resting in every corner of Peru’s mountains, ocean, valleys and rivers.  His team is comprised of other chefs, anthropologists and specialists in botany, medicine and nutrition, to name a few.  He sat talking to me about everything native, from rare edible flowers that grow rapidly in Peru and nowhere else, to cushuro, a beautifully fresh tasting bacteria that grows in lakes of the Andes at high altitudes.  His goal seemed very clear:  to expose as much of the riches that were hidden in Peruvian soil, as possible.  While Chef certainly has seen the world and probably has access to any ingredient wanted, near or far, he remains true to his identity.  He doesn’t cook anything out of the boundaries of his home.  And he doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not: Peruvian, to the very core, and proud of it.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t just hearing a knowledgeable chef talk about rare-to-find ingredients.  It was being educated by an enthusiast with so much love and pride in his heritage, that it literally poured out in the words he used to describe such treasures from the earth.  He shared with me some of the Cusqueño history, from the ancient Incan ways of testing their agriculture at different climates with the brilliant engineering that you can see in the ruins of Moray, to the struggles many endured during the more recent history only three decades ago, where terrorism took a chokehold on the country.  And through all of the melodic anecdotes he shared with me, amidst the most serene of backdrops in the lush Sacred Valley, the thing he conveyed, or at least the message I got most from him was this: Peru has persevered.  Peru has withstood the tests of time, of change, of war, natural disaster, empires risen and fallen and perhaps scariest of all, modern development that threatens the preservation of a vivacious culture and history.  Yet it’s because of people like Virgilio Martinez, who stay true to their land and the people that make it, that no change great or small has been able to touch Peru.  Its culture is as deeply rooted as the rare ingredients that Virgilio and his team discover when working in the field, searching high and low for unnoticed foods of their ancestors.  In many ways, when listening to his stories of findings, one can’t help but see the parallel these edible discoveries have with ancient fossils that fill in the missing puzzle pieces of ancient cultures past.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

The team that Virgilio Martinez works closely with extends not just within his kitchen on the line, but to the fields where every ingredient is harvested.  He and his team have begun a new exchange with the farmers who work in the Andes harvesting.  In addition to coming to learn from them and harvest with them, the kitchen team then shows their gratitude by sharing their culinary knowledge in teaching the locals how to prepare these ingredients, in an effort to boost the diets of local Peruanos, who up until now, have not really had the exposure nor means to eat in a healthy and sustainable way.  Virgilio seemed to be incredibly humble in sharing this, expressing that he and his team are the ones who are lucky to be included in learning the farm workers skills directly from them.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

It’s very clear, that despite a Michelin star, several successful restaurants, traveling the world to cook with the best and endless press spotlights, these things have had no impact on his ability to maintain his modesty.  Virgilio is the kind of guy that has everything it takes to be the best, and hold his place at the top for a very long time, leaving a legacy on each plate.  And yet he is exactly the kind of guy who rocks his tattered skinny jeans, rips open a bag of coca leaves offering them to a complete stranger and invites them into his home, his kitchen, and for a brief time while you’re in his presence, even into a glimpse of his world everyday, from past, to present, to future.  I feel so incredibly lucky to have seen the source of his inspiration through his eyes and alongside him in the beautiful Sacred Valley.  And anyone who wants to see it as well, can just taste it in a plate that he creates.  Because it’s transparent and pure and has all the heart that the very majestic mountains of Cusco themselves possess.

[image: IS Creative Kitchen]

IS Creative Kitchen Pops Up With Brunch, 18-01-14 In Lima

[image: IS Creative Kitchen]

[image: IS Creative Kitchen]

Pop-up news is easily our most favorite to report on, because it’s often unexpected, always exciting, and constantly changing.  2013 was, without a doubt, the year of the pop-up in Santiago.  With two already planned for January, it could very well be that 2014 will belong to Lima.

On Saturday, January 18th, Lima’s “first pop-up restaurant” IS Creative Kitchen will once again delight diners with their creative, tongue-in cheek approach to the modern food that itinerant diners want.  On some fourth floor balcony in Lima, they’ll be dishing up brunch, as they call it, “NYC style.”  Even better, it will be treated like a picnic.  Bring your seersucker.

Next Saturday’s event, which will be limited to only 20 diners, will include brunch favorites such as Bellinis, Eggs Benedict and Florentine, Pancakes, Hashbrowns, and Bacon.  There will also be live music, which we’re hoping involves an accordion in some way.  Tickets to the event are a mere S./ 75, a steal for a great time at what sounds like a fantastic location for a Saturday brunch.  For a complete list of instructions on how to make your reservation, go to the bottom of this page, and read carefully.

Gustu | La Paz, Bolivia

Gustu, Part 2

Gustu | La Paz, Bolivia

Gustu | La Paz, Bolivia

By: Patrick Hieger

La Paz, Bolivia, is the last place you might expect to find a world class restaurant that, with a little luck, could soon be listed on at least one of the 50 Best lists that are compiled each year.  Built into a crater on a plateau that sits at over 13,000 feet above sea level, La Paz is a city of extremes.  By day, the sun sits high in the sky, virtually unblocked by tall buildings, trees or any other type of protection.  Sunburn is standard.  By night, the temperature drops and the thin Andean air becomes crisp and cool.  It’s great for the grapes that go into Bolivia’s high-altitude wines.  For humans, though, it’s hard to understand how anyone could live in four different seasons day in and day out.  But La Paz is where Claus Meyer,  Danish restaurateur and co-owner of Copenhagen’s Noma, decided to place his latest foray into culinary foraging and living off the land, Gustu.  At least for Meyer, it seems that the extremes make La Paz that much more enticing.

How does a Dane go from co-owning one of the world’s top restaurants in one of the world’s most expensive cities to opening a culinary palace in one of the poorest countries in South America?  Well, it certainly wasn’t a rash decision.  The opening of Gustu and its adjoined culinary school Melting Pot Bolivia came as part of an extensive search in conjunction with Danish non-profit Ibis.  Meyer being a restaurateur, the goal was to help support a struggling economy through food, restaurant training, and agriculture.  Despite its economic shortcomings, Bolivia has a wealth of undiscovered products in each of its three diverse climates (Andean, Amazon, plains) that make it an appealing place to put a restaurant that focuses on using the best the land has to offer.  High stability and a low crime rate made Bolivia look even more appealing, and thus the decision was made.  Melting Pot Bolivia was founded, culinary and service training began, and a few months later, Gustu was opened.  Not simply a restaurant, though, the goal of Gustu, Meyer, Ibis, and everyone else involved is to start a movement, nay, a chain reaction, that kick starts Bolivia, its producers, its agriculture, and therefore its economy, putting it on the map as a new, exciting culinary destination worth visiting.  Sounds simple, right?

Past the co-ownership and the obvious Danish ties, it’s actually best to forget about Noma, and perhaps Denmark altogether, when talking about Gustu.  Oh, well, there are Gustu’s head chef Kamilla Seidler and front-of-house and beverage manager, Jonas Andersen, both Danes, but past them, you can forget about Denmark.  No, really.  Gustu is Bolivian, make no bones about it.  From the raw products to the couches, the wines, the beers, and the staff, two of the four managers on staff may be Danish, but everything else is strictly Bolivian.

If you talk to Bolivians that know about the restaurant, the world you’ll most often hear associated with it is “movement.”  The movement.  The movement that Gustu, and Melting Pot, and Meyer have brought to Bolivia.  The movement to “put Bolivia on the map,” as many supporters say.  The movement, as Gustu’s slogan clearly states, “to change the world through food.”  It’s a massive goal, a movement, but once you’re there, drinking Bolivian wines, or one of the various nearly unheard of Bolivian microbrews that explode with flavor and crisp, new flavors, you start to realize that maybe, just maybe, they’ve got something.  Something that isn’t necessarily, or specifically, just about food, but about a culture as a whole, and the fact that they do have a wealth of products that the world could and would love.

It’s already happening all over South America, with Peru leading the march towards international acclaim.  Recognize what you have.  Get the people to talk about traditions and pride and the flavors they love out loud, and not just to themselves.  Celebrate the products that you and only you have.  Then scream it from the mountain tops.  Hype it.  Serve it on street corners.  In divey little restaurants with just enough character.  In big, palatial temples devoted to high cuisine.  In everyday restaurants that everyone can afford.  And then they’ll come.  The pilgrims.  The foodies.  The tourists.  Eating isn’t just fun, or trendy.  It’s necessary.  So why not make it delicious at the same time?  I’m here to tell you that Bolivia has a delicious chance.  Start thinking about La Paz, and Santa Cruz as names you should know.  Soon–hopefully very soon–they’ll be almost as widely used as names like Lima, or Buenos Aires, or Sao Paolo.  And with good reason.

Currently, there’s only one real destination for dining in La Paz.  It’s Gustu. There are a number of higher-end hotels that serve decent meals at decent prices, with flavorful, semi-traditional Bolivian dishes mixed into their otherwise fusion and internationally-focused menus, but Gustu is the only place that is currently trying to look at the full scope of the Bolivian larder and say, hey, we can work with this.  It just takes a little creativity.  Go to the street and you’ll find treats like anticuchos with grilled potatoes and hot sauce.  Cooked tripe with potatoes and a different hot sauce.  Or the ‘chola sandwich,’ made from slow-roasted pork and served with onions and hot sauce in warm bun, all so tender it will go down like a milkshake.  There’s good eating, for sure.  There’s a great deal of restaurants serving everything from chicken to hamburgers, Argentine-style steaks to basic Italian food.  But aside from the obvious tourist and international fare, there’s also a good deal of foundational Bolivian foods that are simple, flavorful, and full of potential.  The range from high to low is still just too broad.

Gustu is inevitably described as high-end.  Menu options range from bar snacks or a la carte plates to a 15-course tasting menu served on handmade clay plates, paired strictly with Bolivian wines and beers, all for $120 or so.  A steal, given the quality.  High-end for Bolivia.  It doesn’t feel high-end though.  Or at least it doesn’t feel stuffy.  The food at Gustu feels comfortable, like homemade food.  The atmosphere has minimalist Danish touches (I know, I said it again), warmed up with Bolivian textiles and colors.  Natural products, carved native woods, candles illuminating what would otherwise be dark corners.  High-end with the comforts of home.

IMG_1832 DSC_0099

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chefs aim to change the menu every six weeks, based on seasonality and new discoveries from forager Joan Garbó, a Spaniard who now leads Gustu’s L.A.B. (Laboratorio de Alimentos Bolivianos).  As the team attempts to create Bolivian fare, they must discover it as well.  Dishes like rabbit confit over a purée of white choclo–a large kernel variety of Andean corn–with burnt kernels of the same feel like comfort food.  A raw egg yolk served with shredded hearts of palm and llama jerky bear an uncanny resemblance to a carbonara, but unlike any carbonara you’ve ever had.  A dessert of tamarind, ají, tomatillo, and cherimoya lingers on the tongue, a reminder that you can go from meat and potatoes to tropical-like acid and heat in the course of one meal.  From one country.

IMG_1819 IMG_1830

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0137

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ox cheeks with braised mushrooms and potato chips from one of the thousands of varieties of potatoes that Bolivia boasts.  Quinoa.  Llama.  Lamb.  Yucca.  Amazonian fish.  Peanuts.  Chilies.  Plantains.  Cactus.  And so much more.  So much more that hasn’t even been discovered, or that people simply aren’t using in large quantities.  It this is Bolivian food and it can be this good, yet still so inviting, where has it been all this time?  Or why have people simply been overlooking it?  “Are you embarrassed?” Ignacio Medina asked in his talk at Tambo’s symposium.  I would certainly hope not.  This is the kind of food that chefs only dream about being able to cook.  The kind of restaurant that gets awards and accolades and–oh, wait, that’s the point.

Then there’s the drinks.  Singani, Bolivia’s answer to Pisco, gets deftly mixed into cocktails with sugars like chankaka, and orange.  It’s like an Amazonian old-fashioned.  Vanilla and raspberry sours that aren’t in the least way “girly.”  Singani with llajua and tomato, a slightly spicy, herbal cocktail.  Ginger and cherries with genebre.  These are easily the best cocktails that no one knows about.  And that’s just the start.  Bolivian wines are interesting, if not in need of a little work.  Bolivian microbrews, at least what I had, were simply outstanding.  The Aleksandra Golden Ale, made just blocks from Gustu, is crisp and refreshing, easily as good as any wheat beer from across the United States.  Chala, the frothy quinoa brew that was the best combatant against the unrelenting sun.  Stouts, lagers, and more.  One restaurant, one team, is harvesting all of this.  They’ve got it on their menu now–all of it.  Hopefully soon, the rest of Bolivia will, too.

IMG_1718 IMG_1887 DSC_0174

 

Elizabeth Abel (Eli) is from Pennsylvania.  She’s trained with coffee companies like Counter Culture in Washington DC.  She now helps manage the floor and leads the coffee program at Gustu, using only nationally-sourced coffees from Bolivia.  Chemex is her method of choice.  Maribel Rivero is from Austin, Texas.  She’s a graduate of the CIA program in San Antonio.  When she got wind of Gustu, she sold everything, including her car, to come to Bolivia and take part in the movement.  She now helps run Gustu’s catering department.  Cooks have fallen into rivers out of trees, losing their keys and wallet to try and get hand-picked ingredients.  Everyone works with a smile.  They’re proud.  They’re excited.  They love it when visitors come through the door.  They love talking about the food and seeing people excited about it.  For those priceless touches alone, Gustu is the single best restaurant experience I’ve ever had.  Loyalty, pride and concern go a long way.

Go back to the first part of this article and find Kamilla, and Joan, and Michelangelo at Tambo, getting sunburnt, and frustrated with organizing a festival, then back at Gustu to work service.  Find their cooks, talking about how Gustu has given them pride, both in their country and in themselves.  Find Coral Ayoroa, in charge of Melting Pot and key player in Gustu, working non-stop to make sure that the festival, the food, and the organization are a success.  Find more of the cooks, and bartenders, and dishwashers, and the beer producers themselves at Gustu’s stands (yes, plural) at Tambo, surrounded by other Bolivian restaurants and producers, making sure they become part of the fabric that makes the country, and its food, worth coming back for.  Can one restaurant be responsible for changing an entire country?  A restaurant?  It’s so difficult to wrap your mind around the idea, but when you see the team in action, it seems entirely possible.

If Joan Garbó has his way, Gustu will be included in next year’s list of Latin America’s 50 Best restaurants.  If his wish, and the wish of the entire staff of Gustu, comes true, they’ll be on the World’s 50 Best within three years.  And it seems possible, or rather likely.  Both do.  But those are just awards and can, for so many people, be rather arbitrary.  The cactus producer who lives in the jungle or the woman that harvests potatoes may not care.  Hell, they may never even come to eat at Gustu, simply because it’s out of their realm.  But it would be their work, as much as it would the team behind Gustu’s, up there getting celebrated.  At least that’s how Claus Meyer, his team of foreign implants, and all the cooks and waiters and other hands that make Gustu tick, would see it.

Gustu isn’t for everyone.  At least, not in the sense of dining out.  It aims big, higher than the mountain it sits on.  Not everyone wants to go and eat 15 plates of food.  Or can afford to pay $120.  For many, a chola sandwich will suffice.  In its larger vision, though, Gustu really is for everyone.  Or it’s trying to be.  Gustu is trying its hardest to be Bolivian, and think Bolivian, and support the best that Bolivia has to offer.  From the Amazon to the Andes, and everywhere in between.  It’s not easy, but I do truly hope they succeed.  I hope that Bolivia gets “put on the map.”  And that food, that simple, daily need, can bring a country around.  ¡Qué gustu!

 

 

 

 

[photo: Stannum Boutique]

Spotlight: Stannum Boutique Hotel, La Paz

Though a city like La Paz has long been known for its altitude, its incredible topography and the two mountains that loom in the near distance, snow-covered throughout the year, it seems possible that a hot new social side could be developing in the 2-mile high city.  With a restaurant like Gustu drawing a considerable amount of international traffic, Feria Tambo looking towards its third year and a steady stream of tourists always coming to get a gander at the natural highlights, it’s no surprise that the comforts of modern culture would start to become more and more readily available.  At La Paz’s Stannum Boutique, modern comfort and luxury are just what discerning tourists will find.

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stannum Boutique Hotel is located in the heart of  downtown La Paz, a perfect jumping off point to loads of nearby attractions.  Tucked away on the 12th floor of the Edificio Multicine, Stannum is a quiet retreat from the hustling streets of Bolivia’s highest city. On the bottom floor of the building, you’ll find a small mall with clothing shops, a movie theater, various restaurants, and other attractions.

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 different rooms are available, and each offer different views of La Paz’s incredible topography.  On the north side, get a view of Illimani, the snow-capped, inactive volcano that has become a La Paz icon.  To the south, get a view of the peaks that surround La Paz as it descends from 4,000+ meters downward.  No suites are available, but king beds are standard in each of the single rooms, with double rooms available as well.  Each of the 20 rooms comes equipped with a desk and desk chair, large closets, flat-screen televisions with cable, a mini-bar, and air-conditioning.

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As far as amenities go, there are plenty.  Located on the bottom floor of the building, Stannum sports a large gym, with free access for all guests.  The lobby bar / restaurant features a breakfast buffet including local pastries, juices, fresh fruits, breads, and more.  A lunch and dinner menu is available all day long, and features dishes like Caesar salad, various paninis, and even traditional Bolivian dishes.  Fancy a cocktail?  The fully-stocked bar can offer you the cocktail of your choice, though the Singani sours are highly recommended.  Other ammenities include a business center with high-speed WiFi and two flat-screen computers, on-site laundry services, and transportation to and from the airport.

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

[photo: Stannum]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stannum Boutique is located at Calle Arce #2631, in the Edificio Multicine.  Reservations start at around $100 US per night and go up from there, depending on who you book with.  A variety of rooms are available from double rooms to standard king rooms, and even premium king rooms with special views and large office spaces.  Planning on traveling to La Paz soon?  Don’t hesitate to make Stannum your first stop for hotel needs.  With a friendly staff, comfortable rooms and a host of amenities, you won’t find a better deal.

Hogs, Santiago

What’s Going On

The best octopus dishes around Buenos Aires [via Planeta Joy]

[photo: Como Sur]

‘The Best of Asia’: Another Nam / Ozaki Mash-up September 10 In Santiago

Chefs Sebastián Mardones and Jose Ozaki of Nam and Ozaki, respectively, will once again be collaborating on Tuesday, September 10 to bring 14 lucky diners ‘The Best of Asia.’  This will be the third dinner between the two chefs.  At the previous dinners they cooked dishes like charred octopus with wok-seared mushrooms in teriyaki, wild rice with pork and sausage, and even black bean mochi for dessert.

At $28.500 the meal is a steal, and is paired with wines chosen by sommelier Marcelo Vasquez.  Reservations went quick for the last one, so be sure to get in on this.  Call Nam at 2244-1615 to reserve your spot.  We’ll see you there.

[photo: Santa Rita]

Viña Santa Rita and GAM’s Monthly Free Tour Saturday!

Hard to believe but this Saturday will be the last Saturday in August, so why not celebrate with some free wine and music.  This Saturday, August 31 Viña Santa Rita will once again be offering free tours of its vineyard in conjunction with GAM.  This is the fourth installment of the free series since it began in May, and is the second year that the two have paired up for the tours.

Buses will depart from the GAM at 12 pm and leave the vineyard at 5 pm.  As part of the free ticket, each guest will be given a small sandwich and a juice.  Once at the vineyard, guests can partake in wines, poetry readings, live theatre and music.  Tickets are free, but the numbers and limited.  Tickets can be claimed starting today at the information desk of the GAM.  Not just a great afternoon out, this alliance between GAM and Viña Santa Rita brings together one of Santiago’s newest and brightest cultural institutions with a historical vineyard located along the wine route.  [via Estoy.cl]

What’s Going On

The 15 most influential chefs of the next decade [via Elite Traveler]

A gaucho getaway in Colorado [via The Latin Kitchen]

Cusco gets a Wyndham luxury hotel [via Peru This Week]

Get to know Argentina’s coffee on wheels [via Planeta Joy]

More on The Beautiful South that will feature wines from Chile, Argentina and South Africa [via iProfesional]

PromPeru picks the best Peruvian in Santiago [via Prom Perú]

The growth of Santiago’s calle Merced [via La Tercera]

Male v. Female wine-off [via Barricas]