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All posts tagged #SacredValley

Follow-Up Reactions: Chile’s Aurelio Montes Wants To Test Vines In Peru’s Sacred Valley

By Patrick Hieger

[Wikimedia Commons]

[Wikimedia Commons]

Late last Friday, we gave mention to a story that Decanter had written about Chilean wine maker Aurelio Montes’ plan to test growing grape vines in Peru’s Sacred Valley, near Machu Picchu, in partnership with an importer who, as of then, had yet to be named. Seemingly standard reporting of the news for us, the post managed to cause a decent reaction, particularly with wine makers and other experts, but not just in Peru. Many said that both our and Decanter‘s articles were poorly written, occluding details, and not taking the issue seriously enough. Some accused us of not knowing our geography.  And then there was a whole conversation about whether wine should even be grown in the Sacred Valley at all.  In short, we caused a stink, which was never our intention.

Our goal in writing the piece was not to offend local Peruvian cultures, nor to suggest that simply throwing a few vines up on the side of the Sacred Valley just to see if they’ll grow is standard, or acceptable practice.  In all honesty, it seems that Montes’ words might have been taken out of their original context, considering the wine maker’s status in the region, as well as his coming in as a foreign investor.  If, however, Montes does see this simply as a fun experiment, he might want to reconsider his approach to the proposed land, as well as to the people around it.

Chile’s Montes Will Try To Grow Vines Near Machu Picchu (ES)

By Patrick Hieger

[Wikimedia Commons]

[Wikimedia Commons]

It seems that some Chilean winemakers in have taken rather strongly to the idea that Chile is a pioneer in extreme wines, which many wine publications and experts have claimed make the New World wines so damn good.  Now, Aurelio Montes, of his eponymous winery, wants to see if he can take those same extremes to the hills of Peru’s Sacred Valley.  Per a report from Decanter, Montes is set to plant 1,000 vines at around 3,000 meters above sea level, ‘on the way to Machu Picchu.’  According to Montes, “We are not sure whether the vines will live, but it’s good fun to try. We could have amazing results or we could rip all the vines out in two years.”  The Chilean winemaker has apparently struck a deal with a wealthy landowner in the area who shall not be named.  If successful, the new wine region could make for a good spark in the as of yet only nascent wine industry in Peru.  We’ll keep you posted.  [Decanter]

[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: Como Sur]

Destinos: OFF THE BEATEN TRACK IN Peru’s SACRED VALLEY

By: Joanna Marracelli

Machu Picchu and Cusco are almost always at the top of any traveler’s itinerary to Peru.  Unfortunately, the most popular is usually the most crowded.  There are so many people at these top two sites, it feels a bit like Disney World.  Often overlooked, the sacred valley sits in between these two popular stops.  You could buy the overpriced “Boleto Turistíco” for a whopping 140 Peruvian Soles then take a one day tour to see the famous Inca ruins at Pisac or Chinchero, located in the valley, but wouldn’t it be nice to get off the beaten track and explore some of the beautiful sacred valley without the crowds?  Well, that’s exactly what we did.

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

The sacred valley is just what the name implies.  A valley nestled in the heart of the Andes mountains about a one hours drive away from Cusco.  There are two main towns in the sacred valley.  Urubamba, which is closest to Cusco and Ollantaytambo-about an hour further west. The Urubamba River runs through the entire valley which is made up of imposing mountains, green terraced farms, ancient ruins and numerous other rivers and gorges.  Indigenous farmers are seen working the fields, mototaxis dart passengers around the town and it’s not out of place to see donkeys and horses walking down the streets.

Getting here is inexpensive and easy.  From Cusco, there are collectivos (shared minivans), buses or for a bit more, you could have a taxi drive you.  We took a collectivo heading to Urubamba, which depart when they are full, averaging about twice an hour.  We waited about 15 minutes.  The cost was a mere 7 Peruvian Soles ($2.50 US).  The bus takes the longest to get there but it’s the cheapest option.

We left in the late afternoon and one hour later, we were deposited into Urubamba’s bus station.  After getting settled in at our hostel, we wasted no time to try one of Peru’s most famous dishes.  Guinea pig.  Often sold as pets in the USA and Europe, the guinea pig is the guest of honor in almost every Peruvian celebration.  From weddings to birthdays it is the star platter on the table.

The guinea pig has a long tradition here in Peru and especially in the sacred valley.  From diagnosing disease to being an important part of ancient religious rituals, the guinea pig is a revered animal.  There is even a last supper painting in the cathedral in Cusco depicting Jesus and his disciples feasting on none other than guinea pig!  We arrived in the eveing and were recommended to go to restaurant El Huacatay which specializes in Novoandina cuisine.  It’s not much to look at from the outside but the interior gives way to a cozy atmosphere.  If you come for lunch, they have a flower-filled, landscaped garden to dine in.

We tried the alpaca tenderloin and the cuy chuctado where they deep fry the guinea pig under a heavy river stone.  Surprisingly, the guinea pig was bursting with flavor and no, it did not taste like chicken! The taste was a cross between rabbit and pork.  Quinoa, trout and alpaca are other must-try dishes.
We were curious to learn more about the guinea pigs.  Not only the history but how they were raised in Peru.  Media Luna is a small village nearby Urubamba.  It is also the name of a community-based tourism outfit.  The idea is to give tourists an insight into the local life.  Throughout the day we learned about local plants used for medicinal purposes, we visited a local weaver who showed us how to use natural dyes in weaving, we learned all about guinea pigs and how they are bred in the sacred valley, we were treated to a typical lunch of the area and finally we learned about the chicha making process, including samples!
The guinea pig farm was fascinating and we learned that the more colors a guinea pig has, the tastier he is!  I began to suspect that our guinea pig last night was multi-colored.
We were surprised to learn how many of the local plants and trees could be used to make different colored dyes.  We even got to try our hands at the loom.  I can tell you it’s not as easy as it looks!
Lunch was a basic, hearty affair.  Locally grown vegetables made into a soup with cheese made right in the village was our first course.  Rice and potatoes straight from their farm was the second course.  But the best was yet to come.  For “dessert” we were treated to a real chicha.

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]


Chicha dates back to the ancient Incas and was an integral part of all their ceremonies.  Even today, chicha is considered a sacred beverage.  Whenever anyone drinks chicha, the first sip is always spilled out for pachamama  (mother earth).  Chicheria’s are not your normal watering holes.  The sacred valley is full of chicherias which don’t have your typical signage. Instead, the women who make it take a long stick with a red bag attached to the end and place it outside.  Don’t expect to sit on bar stools here.  It’s wood logs with children and chickens running about.
This beverage is made from corn that is dried.  The corn is mixed with water which then gets boiled for a few days followed by a fermentation period of about 2 weeks.  You can ferment it longer but the chicha will have a much stronger flavor.  It is slightly alcoholic and sort of like beer but not very potent so the norm is to drink a few glasses.  Word of warning, the glasses are huge!  Women are expected to drink about 4 glasses and the men usually 8.  That’s a lot of chicha!  I drank about one.

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]


The next day we were off to Ollantaytambo.  Most people just head to this town in an effort to get to Machu Picchu.  The train departs a few times a day to transport the masses to the famous ruins.  But this place commands more of your time.  If the majestic nature beckoning to you doesn’t convince you, then surely El Albergue can.  It functions both as a restaurant and a hotel.  If you have got the money, it’s definitely worth the splurge to stay here.  Luxurious rooms, fine dining, impeccable service and an organic farm on your doorstep surrounded by ancient ruins?  Need I say more?  As if all that isn’t enough, it’s located adjacent to the train station.  You could be strolling Machu Picchu during the day and dining at El Albergue that same night.

We decided to go for lunch.  I heard that the restaurant offered a pachamanca lunch which I was eager to try.  We reserved the lunch in advance via email about three days prior to arriving.  Pachamanca is a traditional Peruvian dish that is cooked in the earth on hot stones.  The pachamanca contains different ingredients depending upon where you are in Peru.  In the sacred valley, it typically contains chicken, pork, lamb, potatoes, fava beans and sweet potatoes.  Naturally, guinea pig is used when there is a big celebration.

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

We arrived to El Albergue at our appointed time and were warmly greeted by Sergio at the reception.  Next we were whisked away outside to their gorgeous organic gardens.  Almost all of the produce needed for the restaurant is grown right in the garden.  They also raise their own chickens, pigs and lamb.  We were led to the cornfields where a large hole had been dug.  A fire had been built inside and large stones were arranged around.  We watched and learned how this dish is made.  After the meat and potatoes were placed between the stones, it was covered up with the earth.  Exactly 18 minutes later, it was ready.

The meat was all succulently cooked, the potatoes were steamed perfectly.  Outside, just nearby where the hole had been dug, was a canopy set up just for us.  Underneath it was a table dressed in fine linen set up with fresh salad right from the garden and homemade chicha morada created with the purple corn right from the cornfields facing us.  Chicha morada is another beverage made from corn (purple) but it is not fermented and non-alcoholic.  It’s flavored with cinnamon and quite sweet.

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

I immediately understood how this valley got its name.  As we sat at the table, overlooking the cornfield, the ancient ruins in the distance surrounded on all sides by the mountains, all was sacred in this valley.  We raised our glasses filled with local Peruvian wine (shockingly good) and toasted to a truly blessed valley.