After a day of exploring Mistura together with him and his friends, Chef Paúl Perea invited me to join him as he prepared for his presentation at Mistura, the largest food festival in Latin America. On the last Friday of Mistura, Chef Perea was scheduled to prepare and present a dish in the open kitchen at the Gran Mercado.
I first met Chef Paúl Perea in Arequipa when I wandered into his restaurant in a quiet neighborhood off a busy street in Arequipa. In a town known for traditional, wood-fired dishes, Salamanto was completely different than anything else I had seen in Arequipa. I felt that I had to check it out, and I’m glad that I did.
After asking every restaurant I came across if they were going to Mistura, I finally found one that was going. Furthermore, I was lucky enough to get a peek behind the scenes. I followed Chef Perea as he shopped for ingredients, prepared his mise en place, and presented to a crowd.
Solterito, a Play on a Classic
Chef Perea was presenting Solterito, his version of Soltero, a classic Arequipan salad composed on fresh cheese, choclo, carrots, olives, and tomatoes. Chef Perea chose Soltero because it is a very traditional dish from Arequipa and one that celebrates fresh ingredients. It is one of the few staple salad dishes in a cuisine heavy on meat and potatoes. Another reason Chef Perea chose Soltero is that it highlights fava beans, coinciding with an international celebration of legumes. 1
Chef Perea has made the dish hundreds of times in his restaurant in Arequipa. However, this time he was presenting it in front of a live audience.
For me, it was interesting to see Chef Perea’s vision for Soltero in many different forms. I first tasted Chef Perea’s Solterito as part of Salamanto’s tasting menu. However, serving 150 people in a short period of time is far different than serving a dish as part of a seven course tasting menu. The version at Mistura had to be served quickly and offered at a good price without compromising quality. Perea gracefully adapted his concept for the constraints of Mistura. This was probably the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen served in a plastic bowl.
Shopping at Surquillo Market
I met up with Chef Perea at Surquillo market, one of the best markets in Lima. They have a wide selection of fresh vegetables, meat, and seafood. Chef Perea brought cheese from Chuquibamba valley with him and purchased Kiwicha from the Gran Mercado at Mistura. He bought the onions, carrots, tomatoes, and all of the other produce fresh from the market.
As a bonus, while Chef Perea was shopping, I headed towards the back of the market where I enjoyed some fresh ceviche.
Mise en Place
Next, we headed to the kitchen of one of Chef Perea’s friends where I watched him prepare for the big presentation. In Peru, cooking is often a collaborative effort. It was amazing to watch Chef Perea work with the restaurant’s staff to prep for the big event. After a short intro by Chef Perea, the restaurant’s staff helped prep the all of the vegetables that went into the salad. For Solterito, the shape and size of the vegetables are especially critical for the flavors to be balanced.
Throughout the day, there was an open exchange of knowledge and ideas as Chef Perea explained the origin of the dish’s name and told them about what made the cheese special.
The Big Day
Finally, on Friday, I watched everything come together for the presentation. In the first part of his talk, Chef Perea talked about adding kiwicha, one of the innovations that he introduced to the traditional recipe. Kiwicha, also known as amaranth, is a grain that has recently attained the status of being a “superfood.” It has a wide range of nutritional qualities including being rich in protein, high in the amino acid lysine, and a good of fiber. Aside from the nutritional benefits, it adds texture and a subtle flavor to the dish, making Chef Perea’s version one of a kind.
More to Come
It was my first time shooting photos of a live event like this alongside other photographers and members of the media. Next year, I am hoping for a press pass to capture more behind the scene stories like this one.
Please take a look at the full gallery. Soon, I will be publishing more about Chef Perea’s story.
Thank you to Soraya Pastor for her translation help and photo contributions. Thank you to Palmiro Ocampo and his staff for allowing me to take photos in his restaurant. Thank to you to Chef Paúl Perea for allowing me to follow him around and take photo after photo.
- The United Nations declared 2016 to be the year of the legume to highlight their ability to serve as a primary source of protein and essential nutrients. ↩