Lima, a city tasting tour with chef Pía León
For a number of years, due to efforts by the Peruvian government and the toil of chefs such as Gastón Acurio, Rafael Osterling and Virgilio Martínez, Lima has established itself as a culinary capital, not just within Latin America, but on a global scale. Grey mists called garúa roll in and over Lima’s cliffs from the Pacific Ocean; restaurants and vendors draw in locals and tourists to savor Peruvian cuisine which has evolved over the decades to reflect the influx of people who have made their way to Peru’s shores, either through slavery or migration for work opportunities, or asylum as is the case with the almost 700.000 Venezuelans who have sought refuge here (most in the past year).
Pía León, 32 years old, former head chef of Central who ran the kitchen for a decade, together with her husband Virgilio Martínez, is a limeño who understands the local food scene and has worked closely on developing systems and community relationships under the auspices of their Mater Iniciativa research organization. “Lima is the city where I was born and raised. It’s a city that has grown so much, specifically due to gastronomic tourism. In Lima you will find a wide variety of Peruvian food all across the city,” León says.
Today, León heads Kjolle (koh-yay) in the same complex, Casa Tupac in Barranco, as the relocated Central and Mayo, their more casual bar and eatery. She speaks strongly for the empowerment of women in the city’s top kitchens, and advocates for a tranquil atmosphere in the kitchen. “You have to know your team really well. Not just their names but about their lives, and what they like. They have to come to work happy. I think the most important thing for us is to take care of the team – and you see the results. To be a good leader you have to lead by example,” she says.
Below, you can find Pia's suggestions to discover the best places to eat in Lima. Enjoy!
One City, Many Profiles
“When Virgilio and I want to escape for a little while and enjoy good food near our home, we go to Merito where we are sure to have a great time and eat the food made by our friends.” Venezuelan chefs Juan Luis Martínez and José Luis Saume, who serve modern Peruvian food drawing on their Venezuelan cultural heritage, head up Merito.
For traditional Peruvian cookery, León says: “I would not miss La Picanteria. Even though it is slightly modern, it perfectly represents our culture of Criolla food. The ambiance is lovely, the cocktails are great (don’t miss the Chilcano and Pisco sours) and food is served to share with nice northern touches from Peru.”
Chifa (loosely, Chinese-Peruvian) like Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) – don’t miss Maido by chef Mitsuharu 'Micha' Tsumura, for the latter – is the hallmark of Peru’s ability to absorb and incorporate influences that inform its culinary identity today – for example, the lomo saltado (stir-fried marinated sirloin strips served with peppers, rice and chips). “What’s interesting about Chifa, besides being completely entrenched in Peruvian cuisine, is that it represents how we love to share food.” She recommends Chifa Titi. “At a good Chifa restaurant like Titi, you’ll end up with a table with so many different dishes to share with family and friends. Do not miss the barbecue ribs!”
Dawn to Dusk
For delicious bread and pastries, León recommends La Panetteria, “a really small bakery in Barranco.” And for coffee, she pops into Tostaduria Bisetti, also in Barranco or to Neira Café in Miraflores, by family friend Harry Neira.
For date nights, León says has plenty of choice: “Virgilio and I live in Barranco, which has a restaurant scene that has grown so much. So if we want a romantic date night, we will go out and walk a little until we find a cute spot near our home.”
For fun and boisterous gatherings of family and friends, León recommends La Mar, an upmarket seafood chain by Gastón Acurio. “Our favorite spot to eat with family and friends is La Mar. We love the plates to share - the whole fish are cooked in several different ways. Don’t miss the amazing sashimi platters where you can pick the fish you want
León and Martínez’s toddler Cristobal enjoys gardening with the couple on their Casa Tupac property and they take him to the Sunday Barranco Biomarket, “to buy him his favorite fruit and some organic chocolate”, and for gifts for a foodie friend she recommends La Sanahoria: “The have excellent healthy options for foodies.”