Ceviche & Pisco Sours with Chef Gaston Acurio

Anyone who has been paying close attention to the culinary trends of right now is very much aware that the next “it” cuisine is that of Peru, a cuisine that has been slowly and quietly trying to break into the American palate for at least a decade. A handful of chefs and food writers had heralded the advent of Peruvian cuisine in this country years ago, but it had been premature, and many food enthusiasts were left waiting for a wave of Peruvian restaurants - both haute and humble - that never seemed to arrive. This country wasn’t ready yet. Not only did we lack the food culture that we have today with all its foodie bloggers and gourmet food trucks, it was almost as if gringos had yet to resolve their issues with Latin American cuisine. Although many Latin Americans were already fans of the varied and sophisticated cuisine of Peru, the general American population still thought that Latino cuisines were either confined inside a tortilla or served with a heap of rice, beans, and plantains. Peruvian cuisine did not fit neatly into any of those compartments. With the rise in Latino chefs and the spread of Nuevo Latino cuisine, Americans began to understand that Latin American cuisines could be elegant and sophisticated and complex. We began enjoying spicier, bolder flavors. We started to become huge fans of ceviche to the point that almost every menu now features it. We were also about to be introduced to a chef who was steadily building momentum in Peru and who would introduce the rest of the world to Peruvian cuisine.

SUSHISAMBA's Art Basel Popup

Lest we forget about art of the culinary kind during Art Basel week, Sushi Samba will be manning a popup version of their Lincoln Road hotspot in the heart of some of the most exciting satellite fairs. Occupying the former Sustain space in the shops of Midtown, SUSHISAMBA’s SAMBAPOP will be only steps away from such fairs as Art Asia, Art Miami, and Context, as well as a short distance from many others. From now until Sunday, December 9th, SAMBAPOP will be serving “Baselers” their unique blend of Japanese, Brazilian, and Peruvian flavors that have made the SUSHISAMBA brand a mainstay on South Beach. With the announcement of its new chef, Brian Nasajon, SAMBAPOP will be the perfect opportunity for both local and visiting art aficionados to sample the new chef’s creative offerings, as well as many favorites.

Coq Au Vin A La Peruana
One rainy, unemployed afternoon a few years ago, I was wanting to make the French dish, Coq au Vin (chicken in wine sauce) after having received Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” as a birthday present, but I didn't have all of the ingredients required, nor the funds to procure them. I did, however, have a few Peruvian seasonings in my kitchen, so I decided to make a sort of hybrid of the French dish using some Peruvian ingredients and cooking methods. The result is a dish that is thorougly Peruvian in flavor, but still retains the elegance of the traditional French stew. Instead of using a roux or beurre manié to thicken the sauce (both are butter and flour mixtures used often in French cuisine), I used ground roasted peanuts, which originated in Peru. This method is common in Peruvian cuisine to thicken stews and sauces and also imparts a mild earthiness to whatever it is applied.
Sushi Samba's Peruvian Happy Hour
Among many South Americans, Peruvian cuisine is considered to be the the most extensive, most diverse, most sophisticated, and most elegant cuisine of the Americas. With influences from Spain, France, Italy, North and West Africa, China, Japan, and the native peoples of Peru, Peruvian cuisine is one that offers a great complexity of flavors that is unique to this country. Nevertheless, outside of Latin America, it is seldom understood or appreciated in full other than the disappointing experience of an overcooked ceviche or greasy rotisserie chicken.

One of the things I can always count on when returning to my native Miami is dirt-cheap authentic Cuban food - the sustenance of my heritage. But now, with Miami's booming culinary scene congregating in the resurgent Downtown and the newly created Midtown, that good quality at affordable prices is true for other cuisines as well. Miamians are broadening while fine-tuning their culinary palates, and Peruvian Chef Juan Chipoco knows it.

In September 2008, Chipoco opened a brilliant restaurant centered around the cuisine of his homeland in the heart of downtown - a risky move (that paid off) in an area that is known to transform into a ghost-town at the close of office hours. The playfully named CVI.CHE 105 (pronounced ce-vi-che) was the word on the street upon my recent visit back to South Florida, and the packed, boisterous sleekly-clad space proved it. On a random downtown street, lined with empty storefronts advertising the "coming soons," CVI.CHE 105 had guests pouring out the door on an early Sunday evening. I squeezed my way through the disproportionately cramped waiting area to find a grand gray and white concrete expanse flecked with bright Caribbean colors and numerous occupied tables. First turn-off: the noise level is almost too much to bear, bouncing off the lofty walls and floor. First turn on: mounds of fresh fish ceviche were piled high on pretty white plates being doled out one after another from the ceviche bar at the front of the house. My stomach was rumbling. Next thing I see: Chef Chipoco standing solidly, arms crossed observing what I was observing but with a different eye. Mine, longing. His, scrutinizing. Talk about pressure in the kitchen. He almost made me nervous. But his overbearing attentiveness gets the job done; his food is spectacular. His hands-on approach wafts from the kitchen to the house as well, personally greeting guests at each table with pointed eye contact, a firm handshake, and an immaculately white smile. To assume he is meticulous man would be more than fair. And it radiates through his menu.