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A TASTE OF PERU: Part Three

HaVen to Malabar

                                                                                                                                  

 
 
potato

by Lee Klein

Photos by  Lee Klein

Part One of our Peruvian epic looked at Lima; (http://www.southfloridagourmet.com/site/travel/1881-2013-07-05-21-53-08.html ) Part Two took a peek at Cusco and Machu Picchu. (http://www.southfloridagourmet.com/site/travel/1882-2013-07-05-21-53-08.html ). A gastronomic theme has threaded its way through the narrative thus far, and fittingly so: Peruvian cuisine is trending sharply upward, as witnessed by the profusion of cevicherías opening in and around Miami.

This final chapter zeroes in on the foods of Peru via a close-up look at a JetBlue-sponsored collaboration dinner between celebrated Lima chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino and Miami Beach’s own cutting edge culinarian, chef Todd Erickson (HaVen http://havenlounge.com/) and Huahua’s Taquería). The dinner took place at Malabar ( http://malabar.com.pe/carta/), which Schiaffino opened in the San Isidro neighborhood of Lima in 2004. Malabar consistently ranks among the top five in Summum, Peru’s most revered dining guide.

The dining room is elegant in an understated manner. The cuisine, plated in colorful, minimalist fashion, includes roots, leaves, flowers, obscure vegetables and spiky fruits, many sourced directly from the Amazon. Schiaffino is one of a number of talented jungle-to-table chefs who foster relationships with forest producers and utilize their culinary talents in tandem with a sort of botanical mastery to create a highly creative interpretation of Peruvian and Andean cuisine.

Todd Erickson is another minimalist innovator with a deft touch. He arrived in Miami as Executive Sous Chef at Zuma, and in 2011 partnered with Mike Boles to open HaVen South Beach. The dazzling restaurant/lounge highlights global small plates of salads, sliders, skewers, and sushi rolls – along with liquid nitrogen ice cream that gets freeze-blasted per order. Huahua’s Taqueriía opened at the beginning of this year with a fast casual menu of creatively crammed tacos.

And so the stage was set for an extraordinary meal.

First Course: “3,000 meters over sea level”

That’s all it said on the printed menu. Chef Schiaffino came out to the table to explain. Regrettably, I’d already imbibed a pisco sour and a few quick gulps of my first course wine and was in no condition to memorize the ingredients. So he told me the components at a later date, and also described the genesis of the dish:

“It started with a sauce made of anchovies, garlic, parsley, olive oil and leche de tigre (ceviche juice) that we used to serve with a fresh fish tiradito. Then it evolved into a salad with fresh scallops, cucumber and the Andean seaweed. When we found the wild cucumber (called ‘achojcha’ in the Andes) we took out the regular cucumber and started using the wild one. Then we added the fresh maca.” (A Peruvian root sometimes called the “Andean Viagra”).

“At the end, we found that the fresh scallops made no sense on the plate and we took them out. The wild cucumber is called ‘achoicha’ in the Andes. The seaweed is collected from ponds and streams in the mountains above 3,500 meters. The maca grows above 4,000 meters. That’s why we call the dish by this name.”

Call it what you will, it was delicious, refreshing, stimulating and light: An ideal beginning to a multi-course meal. I also appreciated how accessible the flavors were. Oftentimes exotic ingredients can lead to the sort of plates of food that require the preface, “you’ll like the taste once you get used to it.” The flavor notes sounded here were fresh, clean, and lively, like a brisk sea breeze.

Second Course: “Stone Crabs with wasabi-avocado puree, tomato-water gelée, and baby greens”

Chef Erickson was set to bring stone crabs from Miami, as it was season here, but Schiaffino told him he thought he could get him stone crabs in Peru. Todd had a surprise awaiting.

When I arrived at Malabar they told me, ‘Your stone crabs are in the cooler.’ So I opened the cooler expecting to see claws, but there were 15 live, gyrating stone crabs lined up on a sheet pan. I was like ‘Holy crap!’ because you just don’t see that in Florida because of the fishing laws. So that was a trip for me, because I’d never worked with live stone crabs before.”

Like the first course, this plate pulsated with cleanly delineated flavors that sparkled in tandem with one another. And the stone crabs were certainly super fresh.

Third Course: “Hearts of Palm with shrimp, citrus, asparagus, basil, sour orange vinaigrette, hazelnuts”

When I asked Todd to name some interesting ingredients he’d worked with in Lima, the first thing he mentioned was plantain vinegar.

“I was going through their shelves (at Malabar) and I opened up this jar – it wasn’t labeled – and I was like ‘What is this stuff?’ Then they told me. It didn’t have an overly banana flavor. It was floral and light and had a great acidity to it, so I paired it with Brazil nut oil, which is also indigenous to Peru, and it was really fantastic. I used the zest and juice from sour oranges which were from the Amazon, so it was really like a tropical vinaigrette.”

The fresh hearts of palm were thinly shaved, the plump shrimp primped by yet another ensemble of terrifically zesty flavors.

potatoFourth Course: “Potato ‘Huatia’ with crunchy quinoa, Alpaca ham, oyster mushrooms, and tamarillo”

Pedro: “In the Andes, after the potato harvest the farmers take rocks and soil and heat them with an open fire made with wood and hay. When the soil is hot they bury the potatoes in this soil and cook them. That is called ‘huatia’. They eat the potatoes with some chili pepper sauce or just salt before finishing the harvest day. What we do is cook the potatoes in the oven but buried in the soil. So they have the aroma and flavor of the earth where they were grown. We add some Andean ingredients to complement the dish – tree tomato, homemade alpaca ham, crispy black quinoa, Andean herbs and pickled fresh mushrooms.”

The potato had a delectable smoky flavor, but real revelations of the dish were how good black quinoa tastes when fried and what an appealing ham alpaca makes.

Fifth Course: “Roast pork belly with black bean puree, spiced maduros, rum, and pickled chili salad”

“Beans, rice, pork and maduros had a South Florida air to it. I got to bring in a bit of Peru with the fresh rocoto peppers -- there are no fresh rocoto peppers in the United States. When you cut into them you have jet-black seeds that are really potent. So I mixed those with aji amarillo and red-and-yellow bell peppers because the rocoto peppers are pretty hot.”

This plate of food was the most familiar to a Miami palate. Each element was impeccably prepared, from the juicy pork belly to as velvety a black bean puree as is possible.

Desserts: “Coconut, tapioca and green mango”; “Key limes & guavas, Key lime panna cotta, meringues, buttered graham toffee”

The coconut dessert was courtesy of Malabar’s pastry chef Marco Sforza. The latter was chef Erickson’s creation. Together they formed a beautiful tropical duet to close out the evening.

 

Chefs Todd Erickson and Pedro Miguel Schiaffino 

The Restaurant Malabar in Lima, Peru 

 

Key Lime dessert

 


 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 



 

 

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