Not too many of us are familiar with Peruvian cuisine, though that may well be about to change. This little-known cuisine will be a focus at a special fundraiser Nov. 1 celebrating Day of the Dead and benefiting Listos Preschool and Child Care.
The event honors Hispanic culture while at the same time laying groundwork for children and families by supporting bilingual programming at the school and offering tuition assistance.
For those not familiar with Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), it is celebrated throughout Latin America. The multi-day holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends who have passed away. It is a more joyous than mournful holiday.
This year the spotlight is on Peru with the meal being prepared by Enrique Nunez, a native of that South American country. He relocated to Rochester almost three years ago. Peruvian cuisine in all its many forms is his specialty, his skills developed over the years while helping in his family's restaurant in the town of Puno, 12,000 feet above sea level. Nunez eventually became the chef as well as the manager and also obtained a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu.
So how did he end up here, thousands of miles away from home? He met and married Laura Kurland, of Rochester, who was in Puno studying for a master's degree. After taking time to settle in here, he is now a chef at Mayo Clinic's Foundation House.
Those attending the event will be served an impressive menu with authentic specialties. Visiting with Nunez recently about this, he stressed that Peruvian dishes are not Mexican food, though people do tend to compare the two.
"There is a whole spectrum of different flavors and textures, much different than Mexican," he said. "The dishes bring together a blend of flavors you would not expect. They surprise you."
So what will be on the menu? The appetizer is a layered potato dish called Causa. I was shown a picture and it is quite impressive. His main course is one popular in Peru, Seco de Res, a cilantro beef stew with pinto beans. Daube's is providing dessert.
As a chef trained in a cuisine unfamiliar to most of us does he have favorites? "Slow-cooked foods using local ingredients, of which potatoes are one. Peru grows more than 5,000 varieties of potatoes," he said.
Old family recipes are also ones he uses often. Nunez added that there are strong Asian and European influences in the food, a result of colonizers and immigrants over the centuries. Popular ingredients also include corn, quinoa and legumes. If there is a national dish it would likely be Ceviche, freshly-caught seafood steeped in onions, chilis and lime juice.
Nunez also pointed out that over the past 15 years the culinary arts in Peru have become very popular, with more men and women seeking training and careers in that field. World Traveler magazine recently named Peru as the best culinary destination in the world, so clearly its cuisine is about to explode on the food scene.
The evening will also highlight dance performances by Kuyayki Peru of the Twin Cities, live music by Fernando Ufret and a performance by Rochester actress Laura Fierro. Local artists have also created Peruvian-inspired llamas to be auctioned. It promises to be an exciting evening as well as an introduction to a cuisine little known in our area.
The event Nov. 1 is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Peace United Church of Christ, 1503 Second Ave. NE, where Listos is located. Tickets are $50, or $350 for a table of eight, or $110 for a date-night table for two.
For more information contact Christina Valdez, executive director of Listos, at 226-8490.