In the late 1800s, Peru became the first South American country to establish ties with Japan, and several Japanese families moved to Lima as their homeland dealt with issues like the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars. In the century that followed, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion called Nikkei emerged as immigrants recreated traditional dishes using Peruvian ingredients. Lima's pioneering Nikkei chefs included Humberto Sato, Toshiro Konishi, Rosita Yimura and Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (the latter of Nobu fame), while modern global leaders include Mitsuharu Tsumura (Maido), Ciro Watanabe (Osaka) and Barcelona-based Jorge Muñoz (Pakta).
Muñoz, who spent his teen years surfing the waves of northern Peru, turned to the culinary arts as a young adult living in Spain. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, he planned to take a stage position (i.e., culinary intern) at Mugaritz in Spanish Basque Country when he heard from Ferran and Albert Adrià's restaurant group in Barcelona. He thought the opportunity would be with Tickets, but he was then introduced to 41°, a cocktail bar that became the Adriàs' second post-elBulli restaurant. Muñoz recalls, "It changed my life. The first time I saw how the Adrià brothers loved and respected the products… in that moment... I felt it."
The acclaimed 41° Experience later closed to make way for Enigma, and Muñoz and Tickets cook Kioko Ii opened the Michelin-starred Pakta in 2013, making it the third restaurant in the Adriàs' famed elBarri collective (which later added Bodega 1900, Hoja Santa and Niño Viejo). While in Barcelona, PRØHBTD met with chef Muñoz to learn more.
The Spanish colonists brought new ingredients and techniques that merged with local traditions to create Peruvian cuisine. Centuries later, Peruvian cuisine comes to Spain, and it's influenced by modern techniques and ingredients here. This sounds like a reinvention of a reinvention.
For me, that is the way to see all Peruvian cuisine: reinvention. People now see Peruvian cuisine like a business, which is good, but you need to do the restaurants in a good way. I love that we have 150 Peruvian restaurants in Barcelona, but maybe five or six do it well. Fifteen years ago, people said, "Ceviche? Why? It's horrible!" Now people love ceviche, and if you walk around this part of the city, you have ceviche on all the menus. I love Mexican cuisine, for example, but they took tequila, tacos and tortillas around the world, and now you have Taco Bell. I don't want Ceviche Bell.
What is an example of how you reinvent Nikkei?
Maido, for me, is the best restaurant in Peru, more so than Central. With respect to Virgílio [Martínez] and Gastón [Acurio], but [Mitsuharu Tsumura] is amazing. If you take Maido to Europe, it is missing just one thing, which is European technique. We try to do Nikkei cuisine differently here in Pakta because you now have three cultures: Peru, Japan and the Mediterranean, or Spain. Peru and Japan don’t have black truffle, but we have it here, so we need to find a dish where we can combine all the ingredients: the citrus, the spicy, the black truffle, or the baby peas with soy milk or with ají amarillo. We take the Peruvian tradition, the Japanese tradition and the Nikkei tradition and try to improve them.
You're from the north of Peru. Is it true the Moche people created the precursor to ceviche?
Yes. You have two legends. The Chasquis in the period of the Incas were like carteros, orpostmen. If you are in Cuzco, and I am in the north of Peru, you might say, "Hey, I want fish." They take the fish from the north—the first Chasqui will go 10 kilometers, and then another Chasqui will take the fish and it might continue through 20 Chasquis—until they bring the fish to the Incas. They made the first ceviche with tumbo, which is like passion fruit, but it's quite like a papaya. It's citrus with seeds inside. The other way they made it on the coast was with the orange bitter. That's why we made the first ceviche of Pakta with kumquats so it's citrus, bitter and sweet like the original.
Peruvian cuisine merged with Japanese to create Nikkei and with Chinese to create chifa. What is the next culinary culture you would like to see mixed with Peruvian?
Indian, for sure. I want to do an ají de gallina with curry. Combine my chillies with the curries or make a curry with my chillies. Make a kimchi with some curry. I'd also love to take a curry and make a ceviche. You have a bunch of ways to mix cultures and produce.
Are you able to incorporate any Amazonian ingredients?
Just the chillies because it's difficult to take fresh products from there. I have paiche here, but it's frozen. I do a ceviche of paiche when I'm in the Amazon, and it's amazing. Take the paiche from the river, cut it, add some marinade, salt, and that's it. It's amazing because the fat tastes incredible. I cannot do that with a frozen paiche. Of course, I want to do the wild coriander, which I can grow here, but it's ridiculous to ask my friend in the Amazon to send me two bags by plane because I can do just two weeks for the tasting menu. It's more logical to grow Peruvian products here.
Two of the most important ingredients in Peruvian cuisine are the ajís and the potatoes. Are you able to grow them locally?
We grow the chillies, the ajís. The first year, we take all the seeds from Peru and plant them, and four years later, we have the ajís charapita and pinguita de mono from thejungle, we have mochello, cerezo and ají limo from the coast and ají amarillo, rocoto and ají panca from the south. We have eight different kinds, and now it's the start of the season, so we have all the chillies.
As for the potatoes, it was not possible, but then three years ago, I was skiing about four hours from here, and I saw some grandmother take potatoes from the land in the mountain. I was like, "Wow, you grow potatoes here?" She said, "Yes, here in Huesca, in the Aragon, we have potatoes in the mountain."
We took Peruvian potatoes and gave them to her, and now she has 200 Peruvian potatoes… the seeds. Maybe in 10 years we can have Peruvian potatoes here. We do this because we can't do Peruvian cuisine with frozen produce. The same with the herbs. We take huacatay and chincho from the Andes, and now we have them in our farm. We have all the chillies, herbs and potatoes.
Any chance you did ayahuasca in the Peruvian Amazon?
Ayahuasca, yes. Six years ago, I decided I wanted to feel my friends and my family around me more so I flew to Machu Picchu because I had never seen it before. When I was there, I felt the meaning of silence because I'm on the top of the mountain with tourists around me, and I don't hear them because it's so magical. After that, I decided to go to the Amazon to have the ayahuasca experience. Now I do ayahuasca every year.
How would you describe the experience?
It's like a mirror—your mirror, my mirror—because I saw my present and my past. I sawall the people, all the experiences, all the things, even the stupid things, and then you better understand your life and the way you need to go. The ayahuasca is working for me because now, when I have a problem, it's like a matrix, and you need to make a solution for that problem. People always try to make the solution in the problem. You need to go out to the problem, see the problem and then make a solution. If you are in the problem, you don't have your head [clear] to find the best solution.
Any chance you do coca leaf pisco sours?
I have it in my house but… (laughs)
… you can't have it in restaurants.
No. I love the coca leaf. Actually, on Sundays, I like to take the coca leaf and cal… do you know cal? It is a powder [made from pulverized shells], and you need it to activate the [alkaloids in] the coca leaf. I put it in a bowl of water with the coca leaf, and then I put the leaf [between my back teeth]. In 10 minutes, you feel like, weeeeee! (Laughs.) If you don't use cal to alkalize it, the coca doesn't work. You won't feel anything. That's the reason the people in Cuzco, when they go up [to Machu Picchu and other peaks], they take the coca leaf and a bowl and mix it, and then they put it here [between their teeth] and start chuck, chuck, chuck [up the mountain]. Coca is not a drug. You know the feeling when you smoke weed? It's the same.
Anything else you want to add?
Peruvians need to respect our culture and show it in a good way. We need to say, "Cometo Peru and let me show you." I think it's my obligation to do that. Not all the people can go to Peru, or they just go for Machu Picchu or to Lima, but Lima is not Peru to me. It's crazy because, if you ask an 18- or 20-year-old from Lima, "You been in the jungle?" No. "You know Yurimaguas?" No. "Do you know we had one of the best cultures in the world before the Incas?" No. "Do you know we have waves near the border with Ecuador?" No. "Do you know we have a place with the river and the sea that has an ecosystem with black shells and black crabs and black fish that taste different?" No. All of those things are Peru, but it's difficult to bring that to Lima. That's why we need to go to those places to find and appreciate our culture.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.