It isn’t easy to sum up Peruvian food. It’s a cuisine known for its strength and variety of flavor combinations, with influences from many different cultures, including Spanish, African, European, and Chinese, giving way to bold, diverse dishes that may be new to many Americans. While Peruvian food may not have been a go-to cuisine in the past, that’s rapidly changing— in June, the restaurant Central in Lima, Peru, run by chef Virgilio Martinez, was named the best restaurant in all of South America, and sits at number four on the list of the world’s 50 best new restaurants. This fall, cookbook publishers are capitalizing on the cuisine’s rising popularity with new titles from Peruvian chefs.
Martinez, who also helps to run two Peruvian restaurants in London, is bringing his recipes to the home cook with Lima: The Cookbook (Mitchell Beazley) alongside Luciana Bianchi, to be released later this year on October 13.
Alison Starling, publisher of the London-based Octopus Publishing Group and acquiring editor for Lima, said she was well aware of the fact that Peruvian food was becoming mainstream, which helped her in her decision to publish the book. “I was hearing trend forecasters in supermarkets predicting a sharp growth in sales of typical Peruvian superfood ingredients, as well as a rise in the number of good Peruvian restaurants opening up and proving popular in London,” she said.
As for what she thinks makes Peruvian food stand out from the many food choices already available, she believes it has a lot to do with the mix of robust flavors combined with a lightness and freshness. “Its focus on vegetables, fish and superfood ingredients like quinoa, avocados and various berries ensures that it fits well with the current trend for 'clean' food,” she said, and added that “the cocktails are pretty fabulous too.”
Lima isn’t the only Peruvian cookbook on the horizon. Also due out in the fall is The Fire of Peru: Recipes and Stories from My Peruvian Kitchen by Ricardo Zarate (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct. 20). Associate editor Stephanie Fletcher said the book came about when the group were hearing buzz that Peruvian cuisine was the new “it” cuisine. Acquiring editor Linda Ingroia had been a fan of Peruvian food, seeking out restaurants in New York City and elsewhere as she traveled and she had been reading about Ricardo Zarate in the food media for some time when she made a trip out to Los Angeles to meet with him.
Fletcher said Ingroia was “impressed by his authenticity and knowledge of Peruvian food and the way he was able to adapt the cuisine for an American audience.” But they wanted the whole book to reflect the Peruvian culture, not just the recipes, so they made sure to use the photography, typography, and design to convey a certain feeling. “We wanted to show the author’s seriousness as a cutting-edge chef as well as his creativity and even playfulness; his Peruvian roots but also the vivid energy of southern California now,” she said. “Ricardo wanted to show an audience who might not know Peruvian cuisine how exciting it could be.”
The Peruvian cookbook trend started with the release of Peru: The Cookbook by Gastón Acurio (Phaidon) in May. Phaidon publisher Emilia Terragni may have been ahead of it all with instincts that told her Peru was the next area she should give a closer look. “I am not sure if I thought Peruvian food was becoming mainstream and trendy,” she said. “But I knew it was a very interesting cuisine that could have international appeal.”
In fact, it was the cuisine’s variety that drew her in. “My intention is to look at cuisines that will bring something exciting and new to the international market,” she said. “Peruvian food is really interesting because it is so diverse. The natural terrain of mountains, sea and rainforest bring a massive array of ingredients, and there is the huge influence of constant immigration bringing new techniques and flavors to the traditional Peruvian repertoire.”
Home cooks need not worry about trying Peruvian food at home, said HMH's Fletcher. “Peruvian flavors are bold and exciting—lots of chile peppers, herbs, citrus, garlic, and ginger,” she noted. “These flavors are often combined in ways that are a little bit unexpected and that American readers might not have tried before. But the preparations themselves can be humble, such as grilled meats or seafood, ceviches, or stir-fries, and most of these ingredients are familiar, so the recipes still feel very accessible.”