Peru

A Continental Cuisine Series

Peru Journal

Part 3

Next day we film Koka tea in the hotel reception and try some and have a nice breakfast. Our guide and driver are waiting, as we now have a 1½ hour drive to the sacred valley. The drive takes us out of the city and over the high pass. We stop at about 11,000 feet and film and take pictures, it’s breath-taking…literally. I fall asleep and we wake up descending in the sacred valley and its main town Urubamba. It’s quite a large place, nestling along the valley bottom. The contrast is amazing from parched mountain landscape to lush green valley. We were to stay at the very smart Sol y Luna hotel, its very nice and a far cry from the jungle.

Here we meet Nacho the very talented chef. In no time at all we straight out with him to meet a local farmer who grows many types of fruit vegetables for the hotel. The farmer and his family are lovely, and are a bit bemused by the camera. We see tree tomatoes growing, along with many herbs I have never heard of names like chincho a sort of pungent rocket, plus, potatoes and salads. I collect some for my cooking slot later. We say our goodbyes and head into town to the local market. Again it’s a sight to behold. Many stalls selling some amazing produce. Piles of peppers, herbs and fruits are everywhere. There are so many things I cannot remember them all. Every turn Nacho shows me something new. Its good fun, but I can see my crew getting frustrated so with some reluctance we depart back to the hotel.
Here Nacho explains he is going to cook us a lunch of local specialities using all ingredients from the valley and from a local farmer.

The lunch is superb with wonderful breads, empanadas. There are also several types of boiled potatoes with salads and dips. The meats are delicious, pig heart kebabs with the softest meat possible and a brilliant wood fired oven roasted pork with superb crackling and deep flavour.

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Desserts are good too with churros and dipping syrup and wonderful petit fours. Drinks include a sweet fermented refreshing corn drink called Chicha a brilliant purple and slightly sour and passionfruit juice.
The next minute music strikes up and we are treated to a Peruvian horse show, complete with full regalia and the most disciplined horses I have ever seen. Dancers appear and we are entertained for the best part of 40 minutes.
Full to the brim now I sip a strong cup of coffee and think about a quick nap. No chance, off to cook on the high pass. Nacho had organized a working party to go ahead and get the cooking station ready. So some 30 minutes outside Urubamba we drive to one end of a huge lake. The backdrop is stunning snow capped Andes and a long range of mountains as far as the eye can see. I start to set up but quickly realise that we are nearly 12,000 feet up. The air is so thin that I struggle to string a few words together. Even leaning over to pick up my beef, I’m out of breath. One thing did occur to me, back in January I was cooking at the lowest point on earth, some 400m below sea level on the shores of the Dead Sea. Now at probably the highest point I have ever been and struggling.

I cook a quick stir-fry of red onions, garlic and raw potato sautéed for a few minutes. Next I add some Chicha, the fermented corn drink, this time a yellow version. After a few minutes I add tree tomatoes, local red chilli and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I heat some oil in another pan and add chunks of beef or Alpacca and cook pink, remove and keep warm. Add large white corn kernels, salt and pepper and fresh coriander and chicho. Finally add the meat and warm through, its simple and straight to the point. I ask Nacho if he is happy, he smiles and gives the thumbs up. A few locals can’t really comprehend what is going on, and look really confused. We get final shots of the food and film a short piece to camera, thank god that’s over with. I take one more look at the beautiful view and wonder if I will ever cook in a more stunning place, probably not!!! We’ll see that’s what I thought by the Dead Sea and also on the banks in the Amazon, oh yes and in Alaska…

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We descend back into Urbamba and head to our rooms, knackered. I shower and lay on the bed. Next thing I know, its dark and 7pm.

The crew are already in the restaurant sipping mojito’s. I join them, delicious. Dinner is good, I’m beginning to realise Nacho is a serious cook and a restrained and gifted one also. Breads are superb with chilli, crisp breadstick the winner. I eat confit guinea pig legs, with rocket salad, salt potatoes and dipping sauce delicious. Next, pan fried lake trout, with white corn cake, again very good. Dessert was a panna cotta with sweet pickled tree tomatoes and syrup on a crisp biscuit base. This is good stuff and in the middle of nowhere, I’m impressed.
Off to bed as we have a long day tomorrow.

 

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