Live from Lima, Peru, here is Allie Lazar with a report from last week's Mistura food festival.
[Photos: Allie Lazar, unless otherwise noted]
Mistura, the largest food festival in Latin America, came to a close on Sunday in Lima after a 10-day long edible Peruvian mega-celebration. The week's festivities (and overall madness) kicked off with the Latin America's 50 Best Restaurant Awards, right before unveiling this food-fanatic country's event of the year.
Held on the Costa Verde beachfront in Lima, Mistura featured 232 food stands from across the country; a Gran Mercado selling local ingredients directly from farmers; live cooking demonstrations by Gastón Acurio and friends; seminars; cooking contests; and Qaray, a 3-day symposium with key speakers like Slow Food's Carlo Petrini, Nordic Food Lab's Ben Reade and Josh Evans, and top Latin America's 50 Best rankers such as Virgilio Martinez (Central, Lima), Mitsuharu Tsumura (Maido, Lima), Kamila Seidler and Michelangelo Cestari (Gustu, La Paz, Bolivia), Rodrigo Oliveira (Mocotó, Sao Paulo), and Jorge Vallejo (Quintonil, Mexico City).
Peru mastered the role of the gracious host, complimenting Mistura with a vigorous social agenda. The week faced perverse amounts of eating, drinking, tasting menus, market visits and enough parties (and after parties) to send attendees straight into a Pisco rehab clinic. So even though some may still be suffering from the leche de tigre shakes caused by serious Peruvian food withdrawal, here's what went down at Mistura in this edition of Hangover Observations:
1. Mistura is a MAJOR deal in Peru. It's gone mainstream, and not just for a tiny gastro-loving niche. The nation's President Ollanta Humala and First Lady Nadine Heredia inaugurated the festival alongside Bernardo Roca Rey, president of APEGA (Sociedad Peruana de Gastronomía, the organizers of Mistura), and Carlo Petrini, founder of the international Slow Food movement.
This year's motto was Come rico, come sano, come peruano (Eat well, eat healthy, eat Peruvian), with an overall theme that emphasized the country's rich biodiversity and the importance of healthy nutrition. "Mistura can help us in the fight against chronic malnutrition," President Humala said as he welcomed the crowd to Mistura.
Carlo Petrini. [Photo: APEGA]
2. Slow Food's Carlo Petrini opened the Qaray symposium with a passionate and inspirational speech to hundreds of culinary students. Petrini touched on many topics, including the meaningful relationship a cook should have with farmers and the earth, urging students to experience farming culture firsthand. "If cooks don't have a connection with the land, they don't have any power. They must respect the environment and profoundly respect cultures of the world. That is their mission."
He also said that the future of gastronomy doesn't lie in Europe or the United States; the innovation is in Latin America. Many insiders were abuzz about an agreement signed between Slow Food and APEGA that would work to uphold biodiversity and conservation efforts in Peru and Latin America, promoting gastronomic and agricultural responsibility and sustainability.
3. The Qaray talks continued on the topic of biodiversity with Brazilian chef Rodrigo Oliveira (Mocotó), "Diversity is the same as richness. We need ingredients that challenge us, that make us think and rediscover." Like others later in the day, he strived for a more unified Latin America cooking scene, "We are all connected - Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Peru. We are all brothers at the table."
Gustu's Michelangelo Cestari, along with chef Kamila Seidler, has put Bolivian culinary scene in the spotlight overseeing Claus Meyer's inspiring project in La Paz. Gustu just entered at #32 in LA's 50 list to become the Best Restaurant in Bolivia, "We think we can change the world through food," Cestari told the audience.
4. The master of modern Nikkei cuisine, Peruvian chef Mitsuharu "Micha" Tsumura, invited friends Soledad Nardelli (Chila, Argentina), Carolina Bazán (Ambrosía, Chile), Jorge Rausch (Criterion, Colombia) and Edgar Nuñez (Sud777, Mexico) on stage to talk ceviche. Nuñez demo'ed a ceviche with a Mexican twist by adding Mezcal and burnt tortilla into the sauce, while Micha schooled everyone with his crazy samurai knife skills.
Rausch may not have bitch slapped a pez lion on stage, but he did show a show a video on his initiative ridding the destructive lionfish by turning it into ceviche and thus creating a supply chain from scratch. Argentine chef Pablo del Río (Siete Cocinas, Mendoza) appeared on the stage in front of a huge projection of a map of his country, "There isn't just one cuisine in Argentina," he explained, "there are a lot." He continued to talk about the seven major regions and local ingredients found in each one.
5. Ben Reede and Josh Evans of Nordic Food Lab gave two separate talks over the weekend. While Reede spoke about his background and how he began learning and researching about food (reading Larousse Gastronomique late night as if it was a nudey magazine), Josh Evans gave the crowd a peek inside NFL's "pursuit of delicious things." Evans eloquently spoke about the importance of finding new ingredients as a way to stimulate food diversification, ecological diversity and cultural diversity. He used the example of the Amazonian palm weevil larvae, suri (above), as an ingredient that could encourage us to open our minds outside our food comfort zone with what we choose to eat, and search for new foods with that same "delicious potential".
6. While Gastón Acurio was a planned speaker, he said a few words before passing the microphone over to Diego Muñoz, who just a week prior was named executive chef of Astrid & Gastón after the announcement of Acurio's A&G retirement. Muñoz continued, accompanied by the rest of the Casa Moreyra main players, presenting the new tasting menu called Memories of My Land, inspired by memory and childhood.
[Photo: Tatiana Guerrero / APEGA]
7. Peru's hottest artisan bread baker, Jonathan Day, from El Pan de la Chola, captivated the audience talking what he knows best, while powerfully holding up a loaf of bread over his head (as if it was Simba from the Lion King) making the room swoon and crave a piece. High energy Hector Solís (La Picantería and Fiesta) wore his characteristic ear-to-ear grin and did a live cooking demo of his famous cebiche a la brasa.
8. Just as Belgium's Frank Fol "The Vegetable Chef" concluded his talk, famed OSSO butcher Renzo Garibaldi's 9-man team had already made their way up the stage hauling a butcher table where half a pig laid on top. He invited a group of culinary students on stage for a dynamic conversation, speaking about respecting the animal and how it's crucial to investigate its origins — all while simultaneously dismembering the head from the body.
9. There was no doubt that Central was the most talked about dining experience of the week, blowing the minds of diners with their Alturas menu. And that's not something easy to achieve with high expectations and big hype after being named the number one restaurant in Latin America. But Virgilio Martinez, cooly and calmly, took the stage to close Qaray. He transported the crowd inside the restaurant's psyche showing just how the altitudes and topography of Peru structure his dishes. "I don't have a team, we are a team," he said as the Central cooks prepared a few dishes from their new tasting menu. Martinez also showed a video about his project, Mater Initiative, where a team of cooks, researchers and local farmers set out to uncover the country's biodiversity, bridging the gap between our land and our plates.
[Photo: Adrian Portugal / APEGA]
10. Apart from the chef talks, Mistura organizers planned a full calendar of daily events open to the public. Students, cooks, chefs, journalists and event goers gathered in the main auditorium for free seminars and cooking contests. Some of the highlights included a "flair" competition where notable bartenders showed off their tricks by whipping cocktails up in the air. Jhonatan Bueno took home the title of Best Young Cook (under 25 years old) for his twist on the chupe verde, a traditional soup from Huancayo. Elí López Tuya, who runs a tiny cevichería cart behind the Mercado de Surquillo, won the coveted award of Best Market Ceviche with his simple yet precise combination of fresh fish, red onion, lime, salt and ají pepper.
11. The fairgrounds were divided into 16 areas, each serving a wide array of Peruvian specialties, and eaters patiently stood in long lines to try these famous local favorites. Mistura was first created seven years ago as a way to promote Peruvian gastronomy affordable for all, and they haven't let go of that mission: no dish topped 13 soles (about US$4.50).
12. Crowds hung around areas including: Ceviche, Chifa & Nikkei, Andean & Amazon, Sandwiches, Pisco & Wine, and BBQ & Anticuchos. Some of the standout dishes? Anticuchos (skewered beef heart) from Tia Grimanesa Vargas, chicharrón and camote (pork and sweet potato) sandwich from El Chinito, fish ceviche from Cevicheria Sonia, Amazonian smoked ribs from La Patarashca, and then of course coveted plates like the la caja china hot boxed pork, stuffed rocoto pepper, ají de gallina, Pachamanca, roasted guinea pig, chancho al palo (roasted pork with crackling), picarones, and smoked chicken al cilindro. A total food marathon for serious eaters who like to eat well.
13. The Gran Mercado stood strong at the heart of Mistura. Small producers and farmers from across the country were invited to show off Peru's emblematic ingredients, boasting a lot of incredible products: avocados the size of a head, multicolored quinoa, dozens of maize varieties, a rainbow of ají peppers, and an insane selection of native potatoes, ranging in size, shape and color.
Probably the most exciting was all of the exotic (and impossible to pronounce) Amazonian fruits — many of which we have never seen nor tasted anything remotely similar before. Chefs like Tsumura, Solís, and Acurio headed to the kitchen inside the Great Market to cook up popular dishes for the crowds, only using ingredients found inside the market.
14. By night, it was back to the tasting menu diet, and it seemed like most had a similar restaurant itinerary route. Jordi Roca's Instagram account blew up all week praising Lima's fiercest restaurants like OSSO, Maido, Central, La Mar, and Fiesta. Enrique Olvera was also a big Maido fan, while author and Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten seemed to especially enjoy OSSO and IK.
15. Chowzter, a network of notable food writers, journalists, travel writers and bloggers who scour cities across the world to nominate the best eats, also gathered in Lima for their annual food awards ceremony. Gastón Acurio dropped by the event, and inspired by the Chowzter project, began buzzing with an idea to replicate Mistura on a regional or even worldwide level.
16. The party train never seemed to come to a halt all week long. OSSO's meat den set the tone with flowing sparkling wine, beer, beef tartar and juicy mini bites of ecstasy burgers. Renzo Garibaldi is a natural host. Just give him a liter of beer in one hand, a meat cleaver in the other, and live butchering party tricks are sure to ensue. Not many people thought they had the stamina to keep going after the 50 Best Awards, the after party, and then the after-after at La Picantería's block party, but the gangs still made it to Casa Moreyra's grandiose bash held in Acurio's idyllic hacienda mansion. An all star cast of chefs and their entourages made sure to get extra shitfaced on the drink of the night, El Capitán, Peru's version of the Manhattan made with Pisco, vermouth, bitters and an orange twist.
The real action didn't get started until well after 2 a.m. where it got magnificently messy thanks to a cook-journalist Latin 100 dance off. Isolina, the cool Barranco taberna hosted the next night, a spot so new it hasn't even technically opened yet. For the final night, Micha Tsumura transformed the dining room of his superior Nikkei spot, Maido, into a dance floor. Partygoers, mostly younger cooks who finally had the night off, masterfully conveyed their ability partaking in the art of wild celebration. But more rousing than the party was the food spread, even though no one was really hungry anymore, it was impossible to resist the bites of Peruvian-Japanese genius coming out of the kitchen.