While Lima’s chefs continue to pick up prizes for their ground-breaking cuisine, ensuring Peru’s flag is firmly marked on the global foodie map, where do they source the raw materials that go into their award-winning dishes?
One producer renowned for his top-quality organic produce is Alfonso Roda Marrou. After quitting his business administration degree, Alfonso headed to Pachacamac, better known as an archaeological site 30km south of Lima, and set about sowing the seeds to Don Torcuato in the Buenos Aires province. Almost two decades later, Lima’s top kitchens, including Astrid & Gastón-Casa Moreyra, Central and Rafael, as well as the Peruvian capital’s five-star hotels, are snapping-up this organic orchard’s produce on a daily basis.
Alfonso’s passion for the great outdoors began as a child. Weekends were spent at his grandfather’s farm while his grandmother would show him and his siblings a love for nature. “She was a simple person who knew how to look after the land,” he says.
Armed with this vocation, Alfonso moved to Lurín Valley’s Pachacamac. By applying a sustainable philosophy that includes recycling, a fumigation-free bio-garden where plants attract or repel pests, as well as crop rotation, he quickly garnered a reputation and started selling to supermarkets. But sustainability has always been fundamental to Alfonso’s business: “We’re aware of our carbon footprint and have a three-hectare replenishing pine tree forest in Pasco,” he adds.
Roots, fruits and leaves – from baby carrots to reams of perky lettuces, herbs bursting with aromas and dewy vegetables – two of the orchard’s more unusual plantings are mastuerzo and “flor de champagne. "Mastuerzo is also known as capuchina and comes from the Peruvian jungle, growing wherever it’s tropical and wet. Its round leaves taste like watercress and its variety of red and orange flowers makes them attractive," Alfonso says.
Meanwhile, the “flor de champagne” is an odd flower that produces bubbles just like sparkling wine. “It has an effervescence that some restaurants like to subtly use so that diners feel bubbles or electricity in their mouth – that’s an experience! It’s a wild flower from the south of Brazil, but it’s adapted well to our sierras here in Pachacamac,” Alfonso says.
Besides other native botanicals such as the chincho leaf (Tagetes elliptica), huacatay (Peruvian black mint) and paico (wormseed), Alfonso also grows edible flowers and leaves that originate from other parts of the world. “We can prepare Asian and Peruvian mixes that are exclusive to Peru – and are in demand from our top chefs. But others are also learning to use Andean products, too, which is marvellous. Just recently a chef friend of mine was in Spain and saw a dish with a huacatay base on the menu.”
After 17 years, Don Torcuato is now a solid business, open to curious visitors looking for an adventure in food by appointment only, with employees mostly originating from the Andes region. “Many come from small Andean towns such as Cusco and Ayacucho, people who have a facility for agriculture – it’s in their DNA," Alfonso says.
And Lima’s top chefs clearly agree with Don Torcuato’s philosophies. “Rafael Osterling from Rafael orders products every day, while Virgilio Martínez, chef at award-winning restaurant Central buys batches of edible flowers. Most ask for a mix of what we harvest each day: the Japanese restaurants like wasabi leaves while the Italian ones like arugula, aubergines and parsley.”
The proof comes from the buyer: “I buy starflowers from him like crazy,” says Central’s chef Virgilio Martínez.