Let me tell you a little bit about myself, and how I became so enthralled with Latin American and Peruvian cooking.
I’m a second-generation chef. My mom was a catering chef; and every one of her five children has been involved in food service since childhood – in just about every front and back of the house position you can imagine. Even now, my brother Ted and his wife Sheila compete in national barbecue competitions; my brother Cristiaan is a restaurant owner / manager in Chappaqua, New York; and our sister Kathleen works in the front of the house there.
I myself began catering with my mom at the age of eleven; and later worked with her at Estherwood Mansion in Dobbs Ferry, New York. I continued to work in restaurants and catering, even throughout college and a very rewarding foray into the human services field. I’ve been a dishwasher, busser, waitress, and hostess. I’ve butchered, prepped, line-cooked, and expedited. You name it – if it involves food, I’ve probably done it. I fulfilled a lifelong dream in 1998, when I finally attended the Culinary Institute of America. I graduated in 2000; then worked in New York, Connecticut and Vail hotels till 2003, when I returned to be with my family in Connecticut.
Then, while I was Pastry Chef at Zinc in New Haven, I reconnected with an old friend – and married him. My husband, Eduardo, came to this country from Peru in 1988; we met at work in 1993, and kept in touch. I left my completely awesome job at Zinc (which I still miss!) to return to Albany, New York to live… which I swore I’d never do. But you make sacrifices for love that you would never consider otherwise. (No offense, Albany-ites….)
So now I was jobless, living somewhere I really didn’t like, and – since my husband worked long hours – pretty lonely. To pass the time, I started indulging another passion of mine, cake and sugar art. (I’ve moonlighted as a cake designer ever since, even doing it as a full-time job on occasion.)
Around this time, a late wedding present arrived in the mail. My sister-in-law Susi sent me The Art of Peruvian Cuisine by Tony Custer, so I could learn to make my new husband’s favorite meals. I was happy to have another cookbook – what chef isn’t? – and I was more than happy to spoil my new husband with food. But I figured, hey, I’m a chef. What’s to learn? Since I had nothing but time on my hands, I dove in.
Choclo? Ají? What the hell is lucuma? I was immediately stunned by the multitude of ingredients I hadn’t even known existed. The more I read, the more I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about world cuisines, other than the brief overview I’d received at school (which at that time centered on European and Asian cuisines, though I am happy to see that they have begun to remedy this wonderfully in the last few years). Soon, I was pretty shamed by my own sheltered ignorance. (I had a lot to learn about being married to a Peruvian-American man, too. But that’s another story!)
I was completely won over by our very first Peruvian meal. It was amazing how a few simple ingredients could be transformed in a way that I’d never experienced before. Sure, it was exotic because it was new; but that wasn’t all. It just worked. It was fresh, vibrant, eclectic and just plain good. I was totally hooked.
I’ve spent the last nearly eight years researching and testing Peruvian and Latin American foods and recipes. I’ve learned enough Spanish to carry on a reasonable conversation with my mother-in-law, who doesn’t speak a word of English. And most importantly, I’ve expanded my view of the world and the people who inhabit it. It has been the most enlightening, enjoyable and fulfilling journey of my life (outside of our marriage and daughter, that is). That cookbook was the best gift I was given – not the actual book, per se; but the knowledge of other cultures, other places, other spheres of reference outside my very narrow American comfort-zone bubble.
I’ve grown more as a person in the last eight years that I had in my entire life previous. And I want to share what I’ve learned with everyone – not just the food and the recipes, but also the great respect for other cultures… and that wonderful feeling of inter-connectedness we could and should share as fellow human beings on this planet.
I hope that you enjoy reading this blog just as much as I enjoy writing it! Thanks so much for being here.