Over the past few years, Peruvian ingredients and flavours have been gaining popularity within Canada’s food scene. To celebrate this burst onto the Canadian culinary scene, Peru was a featured country at the RC Show 2020.
Chefs and restaurateurs from across Canada are turning to the diversity of Peruvian products to inspire their creativity and provide consumers with new and exciting culinary options. In an ever-changing foodservice industry, Canadian restaurateurs are leveraging the incredible variety of Peruvian ingredients to differentiate themselves and tap into new consumer habits and tastes.
This gastronomic movement was highlighted throughout the RC Show floor, at the Opening Night Reception and most of all at the RC Show’s Pop Up Resto & Bar. Chefs demonstrated how seamlessly Peruvian products can be integrated into a number of dishes and menus.
We spoke to four owner/operators that are taking advantage of Peru’s incredible offerings to diversify their menus, and thrive in the years ahead:
Ancora –Vancouver, BC
With two locations in Vancouver, Ancora is the city’s top restaurant for upscale Peruvian fare. Executive Chef Ricardo Valverde grew up in Peru and always dreamed of introducing his native cuisine to the foodies of Vancouver. He says that he started gradually including more Peruvian-inspired dishes on the menu at Ancora until it became known as a destination for fresh seafood with a Peruvian flare in Vancouver.
Chef Valverde has created a menu that revolves around traditional Peruvian dishes but kicks it up a notch. Chef Valverde says he is lucky to live on the west coast of Canada because, just like in Peru, they have access to the Pacific Ocean. His location means he can marry Vancouver’s fresh fish with traditional Peruvian ingredients and flavours to create elevated and truly unique dishes that you can’t find anywhere else in the city.
Ancora has been named one of the top 100 restaurants in Canada and is constantly recognized as being one of the best restaurants in Vancouver. “It has created a buzz in the city,” he says. “They have embraced it big time.”
Tiradito – Montreal, QC
Located in downtown Montreal, Tiradito is one of the country’s best fine dining restaurants that showcases Peruvian cuisine. Having worked in some of Peru’s most revered restaurants, Chef Marcel Larrea was passionate about bringing Peruvian food to Montreal and showing Canada what Peru has to offer. Focusing on Nikkei cuisine, which uses both Peruvian and Japanese cooking techniques, Chef Larrea takes traditional dishes and serves them with a modern, upscale twist.
“I wanted to find a way to show our food but in a format that I know people will enjoy,” he says. He has also found a way to marry both Canadian and Peruvian ingredients in a truly unique way. Canadian maple syrup, pork, and mushrooms are all ingredients that he loves to use alongside important Peruvian ingredients like aji amarillo (yellow chili pepper) and aji panca (red pepper). “The more I worked with the products from here, the more I discovered I was able to create beautiful dishes that are Peruvian at their core but are also representative of regional cuisine,” he says.
As dining trends change, Chef Larrea has used his take on Peruvian cuisine to adapt. This includes offering an increase of plant-based alternatives alongside more traditional Peruvian seafood and meat dishes. Guests can find a “mushroom ceviche” on the menu that leverages local mushrooms along with Peruvian acids and spices. Tiradito also serves up a variety of cocktails, often featuring Peruvian pisco to attract the younger crowd looking for a unique drinking experience. “I am very proud of my Peruvian heritage and it is an honour to share a bit of my culture with Montrealers,” he says. “Canada, like Peru, is a multicultural country that has a rich history of immigration and openness towards diversity, particularly in gastronomy.”
Chotto Matte –Toronto, ON
Located in Toronto’s bustling financial district, Chotto Matte is Toronto’s only upscale Nikkei restaurant. Chotto Matte is an international chain first opened in London, England in 2009 by restaurateur Kurt Zdesar. Zdesar says he was first drawn to Peruvian cuisine when he went to a Nikkei restaurant in Shanghai in the early 2000s. “It was such a unique and new experience,” he says, highlighting the flavours and excitement of Nikkei cuisine. “I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”
Zdesar says what is truly special about Nikkei cuisine is the variety of flavours. “The mouth gets bored very quickly,” he says. “[Nikkei] has spicy, sour, bitter and sweet all happening at the same time.” Zdesar says he designed the menu to have something for everyone, no matter their preference or dietary restriction. “Thirty per cent of our customers are vegetarian,” he says.
At Chotto Matte they make sure to get all the ingredients that are important to achieving authentic Peruvian flavours from Peru while also remaining as sustainable as possible by using local ingredients. “We ensure that we use authentic spices, sauces and marinades, then leverage high-quality Canadian meat to get the best of both worlds,” Zdesar says.
Zdesar has found that the people of Toronto have embraced Chotto Matte and the dining experience it offers. They open at noon, attracting the business lunch crowd, and stay open late enough to see the pre-clubbing crowds of Toronto’s night scene. The sharing plate style of the restaurant, as well as their large open kitchen, creates an experience for their customers that is unlike anything else available in Toronto. “It’s a cuisine that is only going to become more popular,” he says.
Petit Peru– Gatineau, QC
Chef Jorge Bahamonde’s restaurant, Petit Peru, located in Gatineau, QC, is one of the few places in the Ottawa area where you can get authentic Peruvian cuisine. With both a sit-down restaurant and a take-out location, Chef Bahamonde’s goal is to introduce as many people to the products and flavours of Peru as possible.
For Chef Bahamonde simplicity is key. Petit Peru showcases authentic family-style dishes like lomo saltado, causa and ceviche. To truly showcase all the dishes that they offer at Petit Peru, Chef Bahamonde puts together an all-you-can-eat menu every two months where patrons can taste up to ten different dishes in one sitting. “It’s just a matter of showing people,” he says. “As soon as they try it, I know they will be hooked.”
Petit Peru has a varied clientele with many regulars who come to the restaurant a few times a week. Chef Bahamonde says he believes his success is based on the variety that Peruvian cuisine offers to people looking for a unique dining experience. “It’s a mixture of cultures,” he says. “When you have that much variety that is what makes it great.”