Masterclass: A Taste of Peru

On one of the coldest Saturdays in July, an inquisitive and hungry crew assembled to explore the flavours, culture and meteoric rise of Peruvian cuisine, in a special Masterclass given by renowned chef Alejandro Saravia and the University of Melbourne's Dr Lara Anderson. The venue for the morning was Pastuso , situated in the iconic ACDC Lane, where guests were treated to an advanced preview of Saravia's latest project and Melbourne's newest Peruvian grill, cevicheria and pisco bar.

With a string of impressive credentials from restaurants such as Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, Les Ambassadors, and his own Sydney venture Morena, Alejandro Saravia has a deep knowledge and heritage in Peruvian culinary traditions. A joint venture with the team behind San Telmo, another Melbourne-based Latin American culinary hot spot, Pastuso is surely destined for the same popularity. The lively venue provided the perfect location for our Masterclass attendees to learn about Peruvian cuisine, before diving right in and sampling it for themselves. From behind his marble-topped ceviche station, Saravia performed a cooking demonstration, explaining the history and cultural aspects of the dish, before sharing the delicate and delectable ceviche peruano and ceviche vegetariano topped with the aptly named fiery 'leche de tigre' (Tiger's milk). Other highlights sampled from the menu included an 8-hour slow-cooked lamb from the 'cilindro peruano' (Peruvian smoking chamber), an indulgent 'tres leches' dessert, and an abundance of fresh salsas and sides.

Dr Lara Anderson, co-host for the day and a Senior Lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies, provided some colourful background information to the food preparations, contributing some of her expansive knowledge about the role of food in Latin American and Peruvian culture.

"Cuisine and culture are deeply connected and this is nowhere more evident than in Peru, where food is a major tourism drawcard and has been embraced as an agent for social change. In this Andean nation, chefs have spearheaded a movement that breaks down the traditional division between haute cuisine and everyday eating, as well as addressing issues of sustainability, both economic and environmental, through fairer food practices", she said.

Dr Anderson explained how "Peruvian chefs have been elevated to the status of 'soldier of culture' and today in Lima, Peru,chefs are the chief protagonists in what has been termed no less than a gastronomical revolution. Chefs are mythologized as national heroes". Gaston Acurio, an acclaimed Peruvian chef, is one such chef who is seen to be reconstituting the nation through food. Quite remarkably, many Peruvians cite Gaston Acurio as their preferred president! In a facebook post – he writes: "Peru is the only country in the whole world where food is the most important thing . . . you go to Brazil, it's soccer. If you go to Colombia, it's music. But in Peru, you will understand that the most important source of pride is food. Peruvians have always been so diverse . . . but in the last ten years, food's been able to unite us."

Dr Anderson's latest research project investigates how food multiculturalism fits into a broader conversation about multiculturalism in Australia. In addition to sharing her expert knowledge about Peruvian cuisine and culture on the day, Dr Anderson was able to gather some important data about how the public responds to personal narratives offered by culinary professionals through public events such as television programs, cooking schools and Masterclasses.

A student perspective: Amy Jenkins

Undergraduate student Amy Jenkins is completing a major in Spanish and was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Masterclass. Amy was motivated to register for the event following her previous semester of study, in which she undertook Dr Lara Anderson's subject "Cooking Up the Nation". In this subject she learnt how food is a central part of culture and national identity, how culture is reflected in national cuisine, and how ordinary items such as cookbooks can be used as a primary source of history.

'Cooking up the Nation' explores key moments in the formation of modern Spain through gastronomic texts, cookery books, food film and food/travel television series, as well as offering a number of points of comparison from Latin America. Offered as a cultural elective, the study of food is fundamentally interdisciplinary—ranging from literature and film studies to history and politics.

When asked how she enjoyed the Masterclass, Amy enthusiastically explains how incredibly rewarding it was, as it enabled her to put what she had learnt into perspective.

"You can't know a culture without knowing the food, and you can't know food without eating and cooking it. Having been to Peru in my gap year, the class also made me reflect on my time travelling. The conversation was academically stimulating, the ambiance of the restaurant was gorgeous and it was exciting to see the restaurant and taste the delicious food before the general public. It was a great afternoon, and I couldn't recommend it highly enough" she said.

More photographs from the event can be viewed online here.

Click here to learn more about our Masterclass series, or visit InTouch, the portal for University of Melbourne Alumni and Friends, to learn more about the other exciting, upcoming events in the Faculty of Arts.