Peruvian cuisine stands out for its colorful tables filled to overflowing with food. The ambrosia that adorns them is a profusion of aromas, textures, and flavors infused with elegance and character. And behind every great cook, each SUMMUM-approved chef, there is always a committed farmer working their wonders, with a love for the abundance that has been harvested in Peru since time immemorial.
In acknowledgment of this fact, SUMMUM is now proud to present the fruits of a mighty undertaking, complementing its new Best Farmer Award and Research Award, introduced last year, with recognitions for the best coffee and cacao producers in the area known in Peru as the “VRAEM,” the fertile farmlands found in the valleys formed by the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers. Although this frontier territory is the country’s energy hub, it is also sadly home to terrorists and drug traffickers.
Those farmers who produce legal crops in the VRAEM have achieved a double feat, defying adversity and violence in favor of hard-won, sparing harvests rather than the easy money earned by their neighbors who grow illegal coca leaf crops, and producing coffee and cacao beans that are recognized around the world for their quality.
In 2019, we are not only recognizing the exquisite acidity of the Peruvian Key lime—the only one of its kind in the universe, as so deliciously attested to by our iconic cebiche—and highlighting agricultural research endeavors, which have achieved an improved varietal of purple maize with powerful antioxidant properties; we are also calling attention to the peerless flavor of the coffee of Caupimayo, whose intense body is conquering taste buds in Peru and abroad, as well as the easygoing chocolate made from native varieties of cacao that boast an unmatched quality.
Peru’s flavors are an auspicious outcome attained thanks to the soul of our cuisine, the generosity of our cooks, the art of our chefs, our soil, our array of greens, our surfeit of diversity, and the infinite passion of our farmers.
Women have traditionally assumed the role of family cook in countless cultures. It is paradoxical, then, that the culinary industry has been a male-dominated space from the very beginning. While female chefs have earned Michelin stars as far back as the 1930s, there were also schools such as the Culinary Institute of America who did not admit women until 1970.
The culinary scene in Peru has also been characterized by this male dominance. We have had legends such as Teresa Ocampo, who studied at Le Cordon Blue in Paris and had her own cooking show on Peruvian television for three decades; or Teresa Izquierdo, who founded El Rincón que No Conoces in 1978 and exerted a major influence on the Peruvian culinary boom that came after. Even so, many of the best female chefs who have made a name for themselves in the last few decades have stood out more for their fine patisserie than their main courses. Such is the case with Astrid Gutsche and Sandra Plevisani.
This being the case, Summum took the step in 2017 of creating an award for Best Female Chef. Given the reduced visibility of Peru’s towering female cooks at the time, this decision was entrusted to a jury of food critics. That way, these chefs would be recognized on their merits and not merely for the popularity of their restaurants. This same criterion was used in 2018 in the creation of the award for “Auteur Cuisine,” so that critics could recognize an important chef regardless of whether or not their restaurants were frequented by the gourmands who take the Ipsos survey for Summum.
This year brings an especially happy surprise, with both awards going to female chefs. The recognition for Auteur Cuisine goes to the always electrifying Mónica Huerta, who has revitalized Arequipa’s cuisine at her picantería restaurant La Nueva Palomino; while the award for Best Female Chef goes to the young star Pía León, who made her name as the head chef at the celebrated Central before opening the doors of her innovative restaurant Kjolle a year ago now. Without a doubt, congratulations are in order for Peruvian cuisine’s new standard bearers.