For most of the world, when we think about the Amazon, we only think of Brazil. But the Amazon rainforest actually covers 5.5 million square kilometres of land in multiple countries in South America. Peru is the second largest area, with 60% of the country covered by Amazon rainforests. With just 5% of the population living in this area, there is so much more to discover.Pedro Miguel Schiaffino is one of the leading chefs in the world, and for over 15 years he’s been on the forefront of bringing the flavours of the Amazon to the world:
His restaurant, Amaz, has consistently featured in the Top 50 Restaurants in Latin America and is one of few in the world that solely focuses on Amazonian cuisine.
Dressed casually in a t-shirt, jeans and a sweater tied around his neck, Pedro made sure to greet his staff before joining us. Known locally as the “Jungle chef”, Pedro is in his early 40’s but possesses the energy and enthusiasm of a teenager.
Pedro grew up in the exclusive district of San Isidro in Lima. His family owned a farm outside the city where they would raise and sell livestock.
“I was not very good at school, so it wasn’t possible to pursue that path. My father told me I had to get a job, so I thought, why not work in a kitchen?”
He went go on to work various jobs in Lima and eventually made his way to study at the Culinary Institute of America and the Italian Culinary Institute. This lead to Pedro working at Pinocchio in Borgomanero, run by legendary Italian Chef Piero Bertinotti.
“Piero is a like a father figure for me. Under him, I learnt the importance of good produce and how to run a kitchen. I am the chef I am today thanks to his support.”
It was a life-changing experience, but after a few years, working in Italy, Pedro wanted to come back home to Lima. He became the Head Chef of Huaca Pucllana. It was while working there that he became curious about the Amazon.
“I travelled to the jungle with a biologist friend, to the main market in Belén, in Iquitos to learn more about Amazonian fish. We came across paiche, and I thought this could really work back in Lima.”
Huaca Pucllana was primarily focused on traditional Peruvian dishes, such as lomo saltado and ají de gallina, so there was little room where Pedro could showcase new-found Amazonian cuisine.
“I was interested in Peruvian products that were not very well known. I was looking at ingredients from all across the country, and I noticed no one was really paying attention to the Amazon. I wanted to change that.”
Pedro opened Malabar in 2004. It was the first restaurant in Lima to offer a tasting menu and the first in the world to introduce Amazonian products to haute cuisine. It didn’t take long for the world to notice and for Malabarto be ranked as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. His cooking style however felt out of reach for locals because of the formal setting and that was something Pedro wanted to change.
The restaurant itself is divided into two sections. The first level has a playful tropical feel, which has a bar surrounded by bright turquoise walls, multi-coloured chairs and a ceramic puma, which can only make you smile. The second level is a bit more formal, with the conservative elements of fine dining. Here you find darker brown furniture with dim lighting, giving the space a more intimate atmosphere.
“The one thing I am not is a perfectionist. It would be impossible to be. In order for me to do everything I want to do in my life, I have to trust my people.”
The Head Chef of Amaz in Miraflores is Mauricio Barbon. Mauricio is originally from El Salvador and has been working at Amazsince 2014. We spent a couple of hours with him walking through the kitchen, as he prepared our selected dishes for lunch to showcase the menu. He’s a tall but soft-spoken man, with a deep passion for his work.
‘Abruto tu paiche’ grilled Paiche over mashed aguaje with chorizo sauce and sweet pepper
The paiche is a versatile freshwater fish. When cooked, the fillet stays firm with the right level tenderness. The aguaje fruit grows on palm trees. Its snakeskin-patterned exterior covers a rich, fleshy interior, resembling a fresh mango that has an interesting carrot-like taste. The paiche may have been the lead act in this dish but the chorizo is a very strong supporting character. Mauricio explained to us that they have been working with the farmer for a couple of years to get the consistency they wanted. Unlike the classic rich chorizo, the Amaz chorizo was light, airy and jumping with flavour.
‘Churros pishpirones’ Amazonian river snails with regional chorizo and tapioca sauces
At first sight, you might be shocked at the size of the river snail shell. It is literally the size of afist, far larger than snails I have ever seen. The flesh of this mammoth snail is removed, diced, marinated and cooked before being placed back into the shell for serving. I honestly could not get enough of this dish. The lovely textures of the tapioca balls, along with the spiciness of the sauce and in combination with the meat, created a beautiful symphony of flavours.
‘Pacamoto’ freshwater prawn ceviche grilled in bamboo
It’s a magical thing when a dish can remind you of home. It was tangy and spicy, just hot enough to bring out the subtle flavours of the dish. The prawns were pre-marinated and placed into a bamboo casing. The dish is slow cooked, which allows the ingredients to preserve their natural flavours.
‘Arroz con chorizos’ stir fried rice with stewed beans and chorizo
A straightforward side dish, which goes really well with the paiche. Mauricio explained to us this was something you would typically see in Amazonian homes.
‘Chonta salad’ thin strips of palm with roasted yucca flour and brazil nut oil.
This heart of the palm is hand peeled into thin strips, which closely resembles fettuccini. It’s something I’ve never had, and I can’t imagine a lot of other people have either before they come to Amaz. The flavours of chonta are delicate and the sprinkle of yucca flour and brazil nut oil give it a crunchy texture which paired brilliantly with the prawn ceviche.The menu is seasonal in order to ensure the guests get what the producers can naturally provide. Ingredients such as paiche and churros are now available across Lima thanks to Pedro and his efforts to create a sustainable supply chain.
While Amazmay have introduced many new ingredients to the outside world, when you think about the biodiversity of the rainforest, you realise the possibilities seem endless.