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Peruvian chef stirs up a frenzy

Update: April, 10/2014 - 09:14
Mouth-watering: Peruvian Chef Maria Rosa Vasquez Chavez performs a cooking show for an audience of various nationalities at Hotel de L'Opera in downtown Ha Noi on Tuesday. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh

by Le Huong

Kneading a mixture of mashed potato, ground chilli and some lemon juice with her hands, Chef Maria Rosa Vasquez Chavez gave the final touches to her traditional appetiser Causa.

She simultaneously explained the way to process the ingredients and cook to an attentive audience.

Dozens of diplomats and professional chefs were watching her moves with curious eyes and sometimes exchanging exclamations of "oh" and "ah" with one another.

Cameras, iphones and ipads were in action throughout her two-hour cooking demonstration.

Chavez was not teaching cooking at home in Peru. She was performing a cooking show for an audience comprising various nationalities in downtown Ha Noi at a special food festival held by Embassy of Peru.

She demonstrated the method of cooking five popular Peruvian dishes: Causa (mashed potato with lemon and yellow pepper sauce, stuffed with crab meat, avocado and crispy fried shrimp); classic and mixed Ceviche (sea bass diced with lime juice, "limo" chilli, cilantro, onions, served with sweet potato and roasted corn); Quinoa salad (white/red/black quinoa cereal, squid, salmon, mushrooms, "limo" chilli, pine nuts, lettuce mix, olives and hot pepper mix emulsion); Lomo Saltado (fried beef tenderloin, crispy potatoes, fried rice "Peruvian style" and Lucuma ice-cream (ice cream made from a special fruit called "Lucuma" from Peru).

"These are the most popular among more than 3,000 traditional dishes of Peru, which use Peru's large variety of ingredients," Chavez told Viet Nam News, "We have a long beach, so fish and other seafood are available. There are more than 200 kinds of potato and various kinds of chilly."

She added that she intended to introduce dishes that can be easily made from local ingredients in Viet Nam.

"Peruvian cuisine is a harmonious blend of many foreign cuisines, including Mexican, Indian, Italian, Spanish, African, Chinese and Japanese," she said, "The Spanish brought to Peru lemon, pork, beef and sweets, the African slaves brought chilli, the Chinese introduced rice, soya sauce and ginger, while the Japanese taught locals how to make the most simple and healthy seafood."

Chavez spent a lot of time at the show talking about quinoa, a kind of local cereal, which has been raised in Peru for millions of years and was the local staple food before other protein sources, such as meat, egg and milk, appeared in the country.

There are three kinds of quinoa: white, red and black, which have been dubbed as "gold seeds of Peru", and contain lots of protein.

Quinoa can be boiled with cheese, milk, chicken consomme or boiled with vegetables or roots.

Tasting the dishes prepared by the chef, Truong Cong Le, director of Sao Mai Food and Beverages Training and Services Centre and a professional cook himself for more than 20 years, could not hide his surprise and joy at discovering new ingredients the chef had brought from Peru.

"I like Causa as it blends chilli, sour flavours and various seafood and fatty avocado," he said, "It's a good appetiser and tastes like a kind of Vietnamese spring roll."

He was surprised that fish consomme was used in Ceviche salad because the Vietnamese always keep their salad dry.

"This is the first time I have tried Peruvian food," he noted, "They tend to use lots of cereals and vegetables. The dishes are all easy to process except some native ingredients from Peru."

Maribel Sierra de Limon, wife of Mexican ambassador to Viet Nam, said she really enjoyed the cooking show.

"Latin American foods are very similar," she stated, "Peru is near Mexico and the people of both countries use a lot of chilli in cooking. But Mexican food is much hotter, while Peruvian food uses more potato in its dishes."

Luis Tsuboyama, Charge d'Affaire of Peruvian Embassy, stressed that the very first cooking show was also a chance to introduce rich native ingredients of Peru to Viet Nam.

This is the first event among a series of activities that the embassy plans to organise here and in HCM City to celebrate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries later this year.

"The relationship can be further improved yet while our embassy has been operating here in Ha Noi since last August, there is still no Vietnamese embassy in Peru," he said.

Tsuboyama further remarked that his aim was to boost bilateral trade, especially the export of vegetables, fruits, roots and handicrafts from Peru to Viet Nam. Cotton was another item whose export from Peru to Viet Nam could be bolstered.

"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach," he joked, "I hope Vietnamese people can understand a part of Peru through this cooking show and at the same time we are willing to facilitate Viet Nam to introduce Vietnamese cuisine in a similar show in Peru."

Chef Chavez confessed she had not got a chance to taste Vietnamese food in Viet Nam but she really liked the Vietnamese spring rolls she tried in other countries.

"I have travelled to many countries and each culture seems to be a challenge for me to get familiar with," she remarked, "But I was surprised when I came here for the first time and I saw everything was so familiar. I receive a lot of care, people are very open and I feel at home." — VNS

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