Peruvian-inspired food is taking over South Florida cities like Miami. Who can say how it all began?
Maybe it was when Chef Todd Erickson greeted passengers aboard JetBlue's inaugural flight from Fort Lauderdale to Lima, Peru, with a warm, Southwestern-bred smile. Strolling jovially through the flight's aisle, Erickson handed each passenger on the November 2013 voyage with a personally packaged bag of cancha, Peru's go-to toasted corn nut snack.
The nibble encapsulated both the flight's cultural significance and the approachable finesse that has made Erickson's ventures, including his South Beach tapas hotspot Haven, so popular.
Ceviche from Miami restaurant La Mar — Photo courtesy of Rockaway PR
Once deplaned, Erickson headed to Lima's Malabar restaurant, whose dedication to Amazonian ingredients and creative flair have garnered global resonance. There, Erickson collaborated with Malabar's Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, crafting a pop-up dinner that highlighted both regions' overlapping influences.
The duo's innovative menu plated greens from 3,000 meters above Peru's sea level, as well as wasabi-avocado stone crabs and potato huatia with crunchy quinoa and Alpaca ham.
"Todd and Pedro are both extremely involved in their respective city's culinary development," explains JetBlue's Corporate Communications Manager Anders Lindstrom. "They are both known for their menus and sourcing the finest products, keeping their local farmers and purveyors in mind."
JetBlue's decision to fete the route through its gastronomic significance further asserted the growing interrelations between South Florida and Peru, as well as Peru's expanding imprint on the world's culinary canvass. Though ceviche and its fusion leanings have earned their place among South Florida's favorite buzz words, a true attention to Peru's edible aptitude and staying power had not been tangible until recently.
In the year since JetBlue's inaugural flight, Peruvian eateries have continued their rapid sprouting across South Florida. In April 2014, Gaston Acurio, Peru's official culinary ambassador, opened his third stateside endeavor: La Mar by Gaston Acurio, located inside the Mandarin Oriental.
In September 2014, Acurio sold out a Friends of James Beard dinner at La Mar, which touted fellow Peruvian pioneers Mitsuharu Tsumura, Hector Solis and Virgilio Martinez.
Martinez's Lima restaurant Central sits on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list, alongside Acurio's own Astrid y Gaston. Acurio will continue to steam further into the US market with his first English-language cookbook, Peru: The Cookbook, come spring 2015.
Two Peru-based restaurant chains have also touch downed in Miami within a year's time, both choosing the city as their first US outposts: Embarcadero41 made roots in downtown Miami, while Segundo Muelle – which boasts locations in Ecuador, Panama and Spain – made its way to Coral Gables.
Long-standing local anchor CVI.CHE 105 opened a South Beach sister location to its downtown Miami mainstay in October 2014.
Even Erickson, who had plated dishes inspired by Peru's palate prior to his visit, opted to make adjustments to Haven's offering after eating there first-hand.
"The tiradito – a Peruvian fish – that I have on the menu now is with popped amaranth, or kiwicha," says Erickson. "That's something that I had never had before. It's funny that my first experience with amaranth was in Peru, and popped grains are becoming more popular up here."
Giorgio Rapicavoli, a James Beard Rising Chef nominee and head honcho at Coral Gables' Eating House restaurant, was also imbued by his recent visit to Peru.
"The food in Peru was unreal," he gushed. "As soon as I came back, we put arroz chafe, or Peruvian fried rice, on the menu, garnishing it with picked vegetables and raw meat."
His primary takeaways? "I learned to appreciate the sea, the importance of proper spice in cooking and, most importantly, the amount of pride that goes into Peruvian cuisine. I cannot wait to go back!"