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Italian hospitality and Peruvian pragmatism come together in the name of traditional Costa Rican cuisine: this is the cultural fusion with which Marco Antonio Ganoza Carmona, 40 year old Lima-born chef, is rocking the foundations of Latin American dining in his Divina Comida restaurant of Escazù in Costa Rica. His is an authentic passion for cuisine which matured after a long apprenticeship in Europe and following his arrival in Costa Rica in 2003; here, Ganoza held the position of personal chef to the Presidential House during the government of Oscar Arias, before opening his own restaurant in 2003.
Fine Dining Lovers met up with Marco Antonio Ganoza during the latest edition of the Chef’s Cup, and what emerges is a surprising profile of the chef.
Your curriculum mentions economic studies at the University of Lima, as well as a Master’s degree in marketing: what did you hope to become?
In actual fact, I only started that course: I thought it was a wise choice dictated by pragmatic considerations. Then, as often happens in my life, the heart ruled in the end and I went back to my old flame: cuisine.
There is a lot of Italy in your life: can you tell us why?
My grandmother, Lia, was born in Novara - Piedmont region - and taught me to make risotto when I was just a boy: today that dish has become a risotto with Huancaina, a typical cheese speciality. Her teachings, however, were not limited to one dish only: she was the person who made me understand the importance of roots in cooking. To celebrate my own place of origin, the restaurant I have set up is inspired by the Divine Comedy. Even its name is a play on words based on Dante’s literary work.
What are the founding principles of your cuisine and how do you create your dishes?
Whenever I conceive a dish, I start from a rough idea and then go looking for the ingredients. I think that today’s chefs have a duty to safeguard the planet: this is why in some of my dishes I try to protect the sea and valorise small-scale producers who would be unknown without us. In recent years, my aims have been focused on these concepts: sustainability and the revival of traditional Costa Rican dishes, which come together in my kitchen to create a fusion cuisine of Peruvian inspiration. For instance my “divino poke”, originally from the Hawaiian islands, is made from quinoa, raw tuna, rice wine, lemon, oil and garlic. I also use some Italian ingredients such as pasta, rice, oil, capers and pancetta which I put into my ceviche. Another example of my fusion cuisine is a version of fish ceviche with truffle oil.
In what ways do you express your attention to sustainability?
In my fish ceviche, I only use seafood caught by fishermen who respect seasonal fishing bans. I use the fish they bring to me every day. I accompany this dish with fried yucca, toasted sweet corn and the famous Peruvian tiger’s milk, a mixture of lime, garlic, ginger and chilli pepper. Supporting the local economy also means looking for the best producer of goat’s milk cheese among the local dairy farms.
You are keen to revive traditional Costa Rican dishes: what is all this about?
At the ‘Divina Comida’ I continue to serve fusion dishes but I also believe that Costa Rica has to recover its national pride also by valorising its cuisine: for this reason I have started to collect the old recipes belonging to the city’s elderly women. I have rediscovered and readapted many dishes, the “gallo pinto” with black beans for instance and some meat or vegetable-based soups that had practically disappeared. But the most apt example is cream of pejibaye, the fruit of a particular type of palm tree whose taste is midway between chestnuts and pumpkin.
And what about your next challenge?
That of convincing the world that it is possible to do “comida popular refinada”, refined food for the masses. My dream is for every restaurant of Costa Rica to have at least two traditional dishes on the menu: this is just one of the things we can do to preserve the identity of a country that can hold its own with any other place in the world.