A few months ago, Latin Bites executive chef Roberto Castre took a trip to Peru to attend Mistura, an exciting culinary festival that takes place in Lima every year. During the culinary visit, the acclaimed chef encountered some new trends and restaurant dishes that have become all the rage throughout his homeland. Here, Castre discusses his trip to Peru, how he has seen the country change, and what new dishes he brought back with him to feature on the Latin Bites menu.
What was the trip to Peru for? What were you going there specifically to find?
The main reason for the trip to Peru was to attend Mistura, the biggest culinary event in South America. I also wanted to visit various restaurants in Lima in order to learn about new gastronomic tendencies in Peru. I went there to find new flavors and textures, learn a bit about the gastronomic culture of my country and the latest tendencies, and learn more about the origins of our traditional dishes.
I was surprised by the influx of Asian influences your new dishes had. Is that something you’ve seen change or evolve in the Peruvian culinary scene?
Gastronomically speaking, Peru has evolved so much lately and that is reflected in the quality of the restaurants there. Lima has the most culinary schools in the world, and I think that says a lot. In Peru, gastronomy is not only an industry; it’s a social and economic movement that’s part of our Peruvian identity. In Peru, the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine has evolved tremendously. This is why we are able to find such wonderful places with this type of cuisine. Peruvian cuisine is greatly influenced by Japanese and Chinese cuisine, and this has been happening for many years. The difference now is that it has been applied to different levels thanks to new culinary techniques.
Tell me a bit about your Peru trip. What are some of the new culinary influences you encountered during your travels?
I was in Peru for a week, and to be honest, it wasn’t enough time to enjoy all the things my country can offer as a culinary destination. Nevertheless, it was an extraordinary experience to be able to visit five to seven restaurants a day, apart from visiting the Mistura Fair where you can see over 300 restaurants and nearly 300 typical dishes to feed the half-a-million people that visit the fair on those days. Without a doubt, eating at local spots was a unique experience. It meant a lot to return to my origins and see the dishes being created, feel them, smell them, and taste those flavors and dishes that have made our cuisine what it is today. That is priceless.
Detail the new dishes you’ve added to the menu and how those reflect what you saw in Peru.
Tiradito de Maracuya, a finely cut fish, like sashimi, served over a maracuya sauce, similar to the one in our cebiche, served with quinoa and sweet potato puree. This was inspired by a cebiche I tasted at Mercado de Rafael Osterling restaurant. Cebiche de Mercado is a fish and octopus cebiche that comes with fried calamari. The dish was inspired by my visit to the markets where they put a bit of everything in their cebiches. Duck rice – rice infused with cilantro, dark beer, and macerated corn, served with sweetened duck, marinated in two types of Peruvian peppers. Quinoa salad – two textures of quinoa, soft and crispy, caramelized cashews, fresh mozzarella, sweetened tomatoes, broad beans, mint, chili, and maracuya dressing. This dish was inspired by the quinoa. The idea is to innovate our menu constantly and teach our clients about the variety and diversity of Peruvian dishes. My goal as a Peruvian chef is even greater: to promote the gastronomy from my country in a sophisticated and modern way, without sacrificing traditions and customs of a country so rich in culture. Recently, we have added seven dishes and I’m working on seven more, which will be ready by the start of 2013.
What are some of the inspirations or influences you find in the Houston culinary scene?
What I like the most about Houston is the cultural diversity and how open people are to taste new flavors. This makes Houston an attractive city with different restaurant options. It’s a city with a competitive scene, which means you are able to find different interesting flavors and aromas.