Chef Spotlight: Jaime Pesaque explains why the Peruvian food movement is here to stay

Vitals: Growing up in a close-knit household where large evening meals were a daily occasion for the family to gather, Pesaque always loved food.  “I knew from a very early age I wanted to be a chef, much, much earlier than when it became popular to do so,” says Pesaque. His passion for Peruvian cuisine has inspired him to found a rapidly growing global restaurant empire – Nuna in Uruguay, Suviche in Miami, and two restaurants in Peru – all with the mission to represent the gastronomy of his country. “I believe in Peruvian food,” explains Pesque. “And I want to share my love of this extraordinary cuisine with the world.”

Experience: His childhood love of preparing meals alongside Epifania, his family’s household cook, lead to a deeper interest in cooking and as a teen, Pesaque took weekly classes with a visiting French chef at a local culinary school. By 17, Pesque had mastered traditional Peruvian seafood preparations– think ceviches and tiraditos – thanks to a summer spent working at a seafood restaurant in Lima. While still in his teens, he enrolled at The Cordon Bleu and after advanced studies at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners, Pesaque pursued a variety of restaurant internships that gave him a strong background in modern cooking techniques and a deeper appreciation for Peruvian cuisine’s global influences. His latest project to date is Raymi, a contemporary Peruvian restaurant in New York City, founded in partnership with good friend and fellow chef Richard Sandoval. The restaurant offers a comprehensive, dynamic Peruvian menu and its bar has in stock every single variety of pisco currently available in the United States.

On what makes Peruvian food different from other types of Latin cuisine: “It lies with the land, the weather – it’s in our native ingredients, from corn, potatoes and hundreds of peppers. And more so than any other country, we have the widest range of global influences on our food: from Africa to Italy and as far away as China and Japan. You see those influences in our fish preparations, our stews and pastas; our use of soy sauce in stir fries. It makes it so exciting for a chef like me, because there’s no end to inspiration and possibilities for magnificent dishes. And I think that versatility, that wide variety of ingredients and flavors within just one country has helped boost its appeal among diners across the globe.”

On his passion for Peruvian cuisine: “I believe so much in the Peruvian cuisine. I fell in love with the food of my country from birth and for me, representing it is more than a job: it’s a passion. I’m an ambassador for my country and it’s my goal to globalize Peruvian cuisine. Maybe I’ll do it just a grain of sand at a time, but it’s my goal to make my country’s food be noticed by international diners. People are beginning to take notice and it’s my hope that people will see Peruvian food as more than a passing trend.”

On the ingredient he couldn’t live without:Aji de amarillo is an essential ingredient to Peruvian cuisine and it’s a key part in making aji de gallina (chicken in a creamy sauce made with aji), one of the national dishes of Peru. Everyone and I mean everyone here in Lima eats that dish once a week. Aji de amarillo is spicy, bright pepper that is a building block to so many of our amazing Peruvian dishes and I can’t imagine cooking our cuisine without it.”

What he cooks at home for his daughter: “I don’t have too much time off, but I have a wife and a three-year-old daughter that’s my joy. I cook simple dishes for them and I have to say, my daughter’s favorite meal is pasta, anything with pasta. I make a dish with aji de amarillo paste that she just loves. I also have a dog that’s like a son to me, but he doesn’t eat my cooking!”

Current passion project: “I’m working on a new restaurant in Hong Kong. There’s an amazing influence of Asian culture in Peru due to the high concentration of Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrants who arrived at various points in the last 500 years and this is my way of paying homage to that. And Hong Kong has really emerged to be the gastronomic capitol of Asia, so it feels right to open a restaurant there.”

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