Peru is the country of fusions: from subtle ones, like traditions and small family rituals, to the most obvious, like its artistic expressions and, of course, its food. The latter is the one that is getting more and more attention from around the world, making our country one of the biggest culinary references currently. And if there is something as interesting as the characteristics of our contemporary cuisine, it is knowing the path it has taken to get where it is today.
The millenary techniques for preparing our local ingredients were soon influenced by the arrival of inputs from other countries, given the migratory movements and the beginnings of foreign trade. Cultural merges brought new culinary practices, and the dissemination of this knowledge over the years resulted in a unifying, authentic and constantly evolving gastronomy. And now in March, the month of celebrating women, we dedicate this note to the fundamental role they had in the development of Peruvian cuisine and how they are representing our country internationally.
From generation to generation, in Peruvian homes we have heard of “grandma’s recipes”: those dishes with a magical touch that end any hunger and warm our soul. The sociologist Isabel Álvarez recalls in a publication how women have always been the ones to preserve the flavor and tradition of Peruvian cuisine from the kitchens of their homes. And it was with the creation of Chicherías and Picanterías, typical restaurants of each region, that these secrets went out, for everyone’s enjoyment, to the streets of Peru and eventually to the rest of the world.
More and more women are beginning to lead or open their own prestigious restaurants inside and outside the country, and the world recognizes them for their admirable results. One perfect example is Pía León, a chef who has always been in defense of raising Peruvian cuisine through research and application of ingredients from each region of the country. She was recognized as Best Chef Rising Star in 2019 and Best Latin American Chef in 2018. And in that same year she opened Kjolle: a restaurant without a fixed menu, where the dishes are prepared in a very personal way according to the seasonal ingredients.
Arlette Eulert, leader of Matria, won an acknowledgment in 2016 by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism, and in 2018 she was chosen by the Summum Awards as the Best Woman Chef in Peru. Her restaurant presents a fusion of Peruvian, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, but what stands out in her proposal is the importance she gives to respecting the biodiversity of our country: the name “Matria” means “mother earth”, and the restaurant is committed to respecting it and the supplies it provides, so the menu changes according to the seasons and makes us part of the ecosystem. Eulert, with a view to internationalizing her proposal, always remembers the crucial thing of not waiting for “the perfect moment”, but to create your own possibilities and act on them.
The founder of Kamcha restobar, Rosa Paredes, entered the world of gastronomy when she turned 54, being married and with three children. Although her path was not the usual one, she managed to break through and fulfill her dreams. The chef considers that, currently, there are more men than women in restaurant kitchens because of the conventional look on working conditions, but she does not believe that it is a tendency or rule to follow: she has always opted for women and comments that “in the hot areas of the kitchen, large pots and oil at high temperatures are used, and the wok must be handled very well. Therefore, force is necessary to work quickly, but that does not exclude women. We can also take on that challenge. I do it every day.”
The secrets (no longer so secret) of Peruvian food travel today to the palates of the whole world thanks, in large part, to the effort and perseverance of thousands of women who seek to show the world the flavors of our kitchen, and always carry that feeling of affection and warmth of home with each dish they serve.