Eric and I have been visiting our good friend Rachel and her husband, Javier, in Lima, Peru along with the fourth of our quartet, Linda. We began the trip with a jaunt over to Cusco with a visit to Machu Picchu. Since our return to Lima, we’ve lucked into some rather fantastic meals. The apex of our culinary trip so far has been our visit to Central. The evening featured a dégustation menu which, in its simplest form, is a menu put together for tasting. It is sometimes comprised of up to 20 courses where you will be given a selection of fine food to sample.
Our experience was called MATER ELEVATIONS and would take us on an adventure through a variety of ecosystems and biomes of Peru. They describe MATER as an initiative of exploration and discovery, in which a multidisciplinary team travels through our country in search of new products and new stories of people. It is a sample of what makes Peru a diverse country. The promised experience is an exploration of the diverse Peruvian territory: ingredients, colors, stories and scenarios. They would transport us to different elevations and connect us to each environment in a special way.
The menu was roughly broken down in three sections. The first and last sections, 6 and 4 courses, respectively, were single-bite items. These offerings were usually presented on interesting media – from a mossy subterranean scene to a rocky, clay-like mound or smoking coca leaves! The mid-section of 7 courses were individually plated for each of us. This is the menu including a few links to some pretty good Central Instagram and Facebook photos – our shots are not nearly as clear since the Central dining room is lit with spotlights.
1. – 5 M SPIDERS ON A ROCK : Sargassum – Limpet – Crab
2. 230 M VALLEY OF A TREE : Avocado – Panca Chili Pepper – Paico
3. 120 M DIVERSITY OF CORN : Corn – Honey – Tumbo Passion Fruit
4. 860 M HIGH ALTITUDE RAINFOREST : Yacon – Baston – Bark
5. 180 M RIVER SCALES : River Snails – Gamitana – Sangre de Girado
6. 3900 M ANDEAN PLATEAU : Tunta – Annato – Coca
7. – 20 M MARINE SOIL : Clams – Sweet Cucumber – Lime
8. 2875 M EXTREME STEMS : Ocas – Ollucos – Mashwas – Sauco
9. 400 M AMAZONIA COLORS : Doncella – Bahuaja Nut – Pijuayo – Huito
10. 0 M HARVEST AND COLLECTION : Lettuce – Scallops – Granadilla
11. – 10 M CLOSE FISHING : Octopus – Coral – Barquillo
12. 2900 M LAKE FLOOR : Chicken – Moraya – Cushuro
13. 1800 M LOW ANDES MOUNTAINS : Quinoas – Beef – Airampo
14. 650 M AMAZONIAN RAINFOREST : Rose Apple – Pitahava – Lemon Grass – Sweet Pepper
15. 1050 M GREEN HIGHLANDS : Lucuma – Cacao – Chaco Clay
16. 2190 M VALLEY BETWEEN THE ANDES : Tuber – Sanki – Sacha Inchi
17. 200 M SOLAR MUCILAGE : O.I. Water – Theobromas
The 17 course degustation lasted three hours and had us finish 3 bottles of wine, most of a bottle of port and numerous bottles of San Pellegrino. The evening was well paced as each courses was presented with a thorough description. A few courses required table side plating – a puddle of quinoa milk poured into a recess on the plate, broths portioned at the table in aptly simple pottery cups. We shared our perspectives on the menu’s literal and figurative namesakes – imagining a specific part of our Peruvian world and trying to transport ourselves to the specified elevations. We were often surprised by what we sampled and everyone found something they’d never had before.The first taste of the night, Spiders on a rock, was a crispy wafer topped with a light crème fraîche-like mixture containing crab and limpet sprinkled with chewy seaweed (sargassum). Following the ‘spiders’, Valley of a tree consisted of three bites served on a series of platter fragments. The easiest to describe is the mild chili pepper encrusted avocado. The other two bites were potato base or crisped rye bread adorned with full and fresh or crushed dried flower petals. Next up – Diversity of Corn. We were each served a small mug of corn chowder topped with a ring of crisped corn – mostly reminiscent of Corn Flakes. The third component of this course was a bumblebee-like gelatinous corn sandwich on a bright red puffed corn chip. If you hadn’t noticed by now – these are layman’s descriptions and VERY simplified to the intent of the chef. Unfortunately, we didn’t have notebooks to jot down our every thought to capture the nuances of each element.
The High altitude rainforest was a simple yacon slice rolled in annato and charred to give the illusion of a tree slice. River scales accompanied the yacon and was a quinoa triangle topped with thin slices of Amazonian fish and snail outlined with a Sangre de Grado (Dragon’s blood) based sauce. The bread course (Andean Plateau) followed – another trio: sweet potato bread served over a bed of smouldering coca leaves, potato-like mini cakes and cocoa stars.
We then entered into the plated portion of the evening. Marine soil was presented as a delicate twisting of sweet cucumber surrounding a bed of baby clam meat. Extreme stems followed and could have been called the Tuber Feast. Three types of potatoes (did you know Peru has over 3,600 potato varietals?) were prepared and served in imaginative ways reminiscent to sheets of gelatine, paper thin slices or thin wafers.Amazonian colors was a true feast to the eyes – a multi-layered course consisting of thinly sliced fish, thick creamy component all topped with a carrot-orange squiggled grid. Harvest and Collection was very intriguing. The description lists lettuce, scallops, granadilla. Upon initial inspection, one can only identify scallops. The lettuce was warm and lay as the base element of the course. The next seafood course was by far my favourite. Close fishing was served as a strained octopus broth alongside small chunks of octopus and coral. Truly delightful! The two main meat courses, Lake Floor and Low Andes Mountains were up next. The Lake Floor cleverly hid chunks of chicken in a thick mayonnaise-style sauce speckled with various elements. The beef element in Low Andes Mountain was served hidden under a mound of brightly coloured Peruvian quinoa and alongside two milk elements: a large wafer of dried milk and a pool of quinoa milk. The magenta and lime green coloured quinoa can be found in the Peruvian highlands. It was time to move onto the four dessert courses. First is the Amazonian rainforest with its core of tender rose apple topped with nut, lemongrass and sweet pepper. The chamomile petals remind me of bird feathers you might see flittering in the rainforest. Next, we travelled to the Green Highlands – a quenelle of cacao ice cream covered with wafers of yellow lucuma, surrounded by a bed of grey chocolate clay curls and topped with mint micro greens. Refreshing and satisfying to a sweet tooth.
The last two dessert courses were served together. The Valley between the Andes consisted of dark chocolate bark covered with ground nut and plant elements alongside the tuber element – a portion of pasty potato goodness with a jelly layer. The Solar mucilage clincher presented the Theobromas (genus of the cacao tree) element dried and on a mass of frozen cacao.
By all accounts, the evening was an adventure through unique Peruvian landscapes. The variety of ingredients, techniques and presentation methods is inspiring and will further shape me as the voice and spirit behind à la Claude.