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Peruvian cuisine: the good and the bad that 2021 left us in the gastronomic sector

One Saturday in mid-December, an Instagram post hints at the opening of a new restaurant. Surquillo has just arrived Betsi Albornoz with her team from El Populacho: 15 kilometers from her first headquarters in Nueva Esperanza (Villa María del Triunfo), the chef who six years ago had the courage to set up her first restaurant far (far away) from the traditional gastronomic circuit, today weapon again of courage to continue growing. And while she goes into a traditional Lima neighborhood, her cook colleague Fransua Robles He chooses to multiply his restaurant further south: for a few weeks the city of Ica has been enjoying the taste of La Picante.

The news of these openings crowned with optimism a year that did not start at all easy for the gastronomic sector. Because if in 2020, in the midst of the harsh crisis that the pandemic generated, the slogan was to endure and / or see how to reinvent themselves, in the first months of 2021 many gastronomic entrepreneurs doubted whether they could continue after a new period of confinement (February, due to the second wave) and the reopening of restaurants with very limited capacity (30%, in March).

The reactivation of the item advanced at a very slow pace, in a situation of political instability, with the dollar galloping, gasoline and gas on the rise, as well as many essential inputs for many restaurants (from fish to oil). .

“The reactivation has been slow, but the response of the people has been good to those little steps. In my case, every time there was more space for tables [por la ampliación del aforo]At lunchtime the restaurant got busy. For me it has been a good year: I no longer have to wait for the weekend to fill the premises; Now people come on weekdays and they have had to get used to booking ”, says Betsi Albornoz, about her experience at El Populacho, a marine restaurant where a fish ceviche or a rice with seafood is around S / 35. Her figure is just one of many that reveal the strengthening of women in the sector, after a constant work of visibility, crowned this year with the election of a Peruvian (Pía León) as the best cook in the world. Sure, there is still more.

But let’s get back to the diner reaction issue. The gastronomic advisor Renato Peralta recognizes that the most classic proposal – that of the cebichito, the jelly and the rice with seafood – began as the most accepted after leaving the confinement because for people experiencing other flavors was not an option at the beginning of the reactivation; “Now maybe yes, and that’s why restaurants like Mayta or Kjolle are getting stronger,” he says.

But that’s not the only thing people have eaten on their return to the tables. Peralta warns that this year more casual restaurants have joined, as well as pizzerias, more specialized and with better technique; more specialty coffees; good patisseries and bakeries; burgers, and the list goes on.

Homemaker and producer

Taking a look at those who eat at home (encouraged, in turn, by the proliferation of online content that teaches us to make recipes as tasty as they are simple), from their experience managing the Peasant Agroferies, Carlos Lazo reveals that with the pandemic, the profile of the landlord who buy directly from the producer changed, since it is not only the housewife who makes the market: “Now it is broader, there are many people who do ‘home offices’ who come to buy and thus a different encounter with food is generated ”.

It also stands out that interest in healthy eating, being better nourished and stronger has grown. “This has allowed hidden or undervalued inputs to become more prominent, such as tocosh, kion, moringa, and maca. They had little market, but as they are products associated with the reinforcement of defenses, their consumption increased ”. Vegetables and fruits also remained among the most requested; This has not happened with products considered non-basic in the basket, such as specialty cheeses, jams and chocolates, for example, which could be due to the budget priorities that are currently being given due to the rise in prices.

In the midst of this growing interest in eating well (or better), Lazo also recognizes that the role of the farmer, of the producer, has become more visible. “The vast majority of farmers are adults, and due to the pandemic, many have withdrawn. This has given way to the children who had moved away from the fields or were dedicating themselves to other trades, to come back to the field and to the business of marketing their crops, in part because they were unemployed. A generational change is taking place, in that sense the pandemic brought a new opportunity for the field, “he says, although competition has also grown, due to the proliferation of enterprises under the trend of” healthy food. “

A look at education

Considering that gastronomy is not only served at the table, we also direct our attention towards the classrooms. Will the training of future cooks be marked by this pandemic year? What and how are gastronomy students learning today? Karissa Becerra, director of the gastronomy program of the PUCP, details that after 2020 of primarily virtual teaching -something that made the practical training of cooks very difficult-, in 2021 the university opted for presence. For this, they took practical teaching in science laboratories as a model, but applying more rigorous protocols: less capacity, well-ventilated classrooms, biweekly discard tests for students and teachers (if a case or suspicion was found, everything was paralyzed, and that it only happened once).

The teacher of the pachamanca Jesús Gutarra in a face-to-face class for PUCP students.  (Photo: Broadcast)

“The benefits of this face-to-face pilot were greater than the risks. The students have met, improved their soft skills, interact better, participate more in virtual classes and it shows more enthusiasm ”, says Becerra, who reminds us that in the dynamics of the kitchen, experimenting, observing and testing is essential.

“It is also very important that well-being is related within gastronomic training. Today more than ever, culinary proposals must be in harmony with the health of the planet and its actors. That is the focus of our training, and with this we seek deeper reflections on value chains, the ecosystem, the impact of cooking on the environment, health. It may not be attractive or tempting, but it is important, ”he adds.

It happens in Peru, it happens in the world

In the search for approaches on the gastronomic year, also We asked Renato Peralta about the good and the bad that 2021 brought us, and the first thing he pointed out were two global problems: lack of personnel and shortages. Regarding the first, the cook and culinary advisor explains that with the subsidies that most governments gave – pandemic aid bonds – many people created individual projects that hit well (others did not) and that this opened people’s minds about the benefits of being independent, not only dedicating yourself to the kitchen but also working in diverse trades but that yield the same. “In Peru we are left without professionals specialized in gastronomy because many have dedicated themselves to other things or because they demand more flexible hours, which also affects the reactivation of restaurants,” he says. This is how Betsi Albornoz felt, who had a hard time finding cooks willing to work at her second location.

Regarding the problem of the shortage of inputs, Peralta says that when there is excess demand, the rise in prices is inevitable. Where is all this pointing? “I think that everything will settle over time towards what is more coherent: the letters will be shorter because there are no staff; you will not be able to have inputs that are outside your reality, and your kitchen will then become more honest “, he predicts.

The positives of 2021? It has already been said: the reactivation advanced; customers returned to restaurants although not with the same force as in other countries. “This also required a strong and rapid investment, to serve the number of people who turned to the premises.” Of course, who did not respond immediately and at the required level, because they lost the diner.

Finally, we asked him about the trends that have prevailed: dark kitchen and delivery are here to stay. And another one: Peruvian chefs are thinking of opening more things outside the country. “Not understanding well how the state’s policy regarding the pandemic will go, the gastronomic entrepreneur has chosen not to put all his eggs in one basket, and begins to think about settling and diversifying in other cities, sometimes not so close.”

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