Lima dish, from Los Andenes restaurant. Image provided by the restaurant.THOMAS BEDWIN

The andén, or terrace, is a well-known form of agriculture typical of Peru. It is shaped like a staircase, sometimes even circular, and is a sophisticated structure of ancient engineering (pre-Columbian), to gain ground and be able to cultivate in the mountains. If you think of Machu Picchu, that seventh wonder of the world and masterpiece of architecture, you will be right. These precise slits not only optimized the space, but also the type of crop: “depending on the altitude of the platform, one or another vegetable grew better; Being on the base platform at 3,000 meters above sea level was not the same as being at 3,450 meters, even in the same community,” explains chef Renzo Isaac Vincenti Paz, owner of the Los Andenes restaurants in Madrid. He speaks knowingly. Theirs are the only establishments in Spain where you can eat 100% plant-based Peruvian food.

The ancient history of Peru runs through the veins of Vincenti Paz, “from my mother’s belly I was already involved in the stove,” he says. With a wide smile and deep voice, the chef continues: “The passion for cooking comes in my DNA. When my mother was pregnant, she had a restaurant that would already bear my name.” His mother ran Renzo’s Soda Fountain, a small place that serves food, for more immediate consumption, as well as drinks. The food at her family’s establishment was typical Creole food: ají de gallina, dry northern style, Cau Cau, marinades, pickles, anticuchos and ceviches. “All the recipes I prepare in my restaurants are inherited from the soda fountain, but taken to the world plant-based”, he adds enthusiastically.

So this man from Lima, who trained at the D’Gallia Gastronomic Institute in Peru, opened the first vegan and Peruvian restaurant in the world in 2018 in Madrid, now the only one in Europe. “I became vegan in April 2017, while working at a restaurant that had two Michelin stars. Every day it became more difficult for me to manipulate and work with the bodies of sentient beings who did not want to die,” explains the chef. On his right arm, with his jacket rolled up, the tattoo of an avocado crowned with a V proudly appears on his skin.

Noodles with pesto and Milanese, from Los Andenes. Image provided by the restaurant.THOMAS BEDWIN

People of all kinds come to Los Andenes, encouraged by the variety and popular prices (no dish on the menu exceeds 15 euros). But also because of the attractiveness of Peruvian cuisine, often fused with the direct heritage of the Chinese populations that have left their mark since the 19th century in Peru—known as Chifa gastronomy. This is the reason why Renzo believes that Peruvian gastronomy “is one of the best in the world,” he continues, “because of its miscegenation, its creoleism, its many cultures fused together.” This is the case of Mostrito with its rice bye and its cinnamon and ginger sauce; or Chijaukay, a breaded chicken-style fillet served with sauce hoisin and sesame.

The tamale (available at the Chamberí neighborhood store for 7.60 euros) is one of the pre-Hispanic foods that has had the most impact on popular culture, which consists of a cooked corn dough seasoned to taste. It is filled with rice and a vegetable meat with red beans and soy, served with some pickled onions and wrapped in a banana leaf. Another of those dishes, whose origin historians dispute, is the Lima causa made with yellow potatoes, softer and creamier, and also yellow chili peppers, an essential part of gastronomy in Latin America. It is filled with a soft vegetable tuna made with crushed chickpeas, onion, celery, soy protein -to enhance its texture-, lemon juice and vegan homemade. It is even served with a shrimp – made with wheat protein and seaweed – that does not come from the sea (8 euros, gluten-free). “Many people have reservations about Peruvian food because of its spiciness, something that I would like to demystify, since we treat the chili peppers that we use for the different preparations,” he explains. It is a delicate process, which they do daily in the kitchen, so that they are not “inconvenient for consumption, but maintain the flavor and unique personality of Peruvian cuisine.”

Ceviche from Los Andenes. Image provided by the restaurant.THOMAS BEDWIN

Ají also has another of its star dishes, and for which many customers return, the yellow chili ceviche, onion, Heura vegetable protein and tiger’s milk. It is served on a bed of fried sweet potatoes and field paccho (roasted corn), costs 12.5 euros.

Rice cake is another of their dishes full of contrasts of flavors. It is filled with vegetable meat seasoned with panca chili (reddish in color and mild in flavor), accompanied by fried plantain and Huancaína sauce. It is a generous portion and can be enjoyed for only 11 euros.

In the collective gastronomic and vegetable imagination, the word “veganize” is often used to explain the process of adapting traditional recipes and transforming them into vegetable dishes, for example pesto noodles with a Milanese. “We develop Milanese from dehydrated soy fillets that we cook, season and pass through a homemade tempura – which we make from beer, wheat and spices -, then pass through breadcrumbs and finally fry in sunflower oil,” he details. the chef.

The menu changes according to the season, the availability of vegetables in the market and the weather. “In spring and summer, we make fresher and lighter dishes like ceviches or salads. In autumn-winter we prioritize spoon dishes, such as stews, rice, some soup… Just as the daily menu varies, around 12 euros, in both restaurants. “Potatoes, onions, chili peppers, corn, tubers, mushrooms… there is no shortage of them in our shopping basket,” details the chef. To get ideas and sharpen creativity, walk through the Copasa markets, in Aluche, and the Mostenses market. To provide you with all the Peruvian flavors, and to ensure that there is no shortage of Chinese fusion, your essentials are Despensa Americana, in Mercamadrid, and Yeshi Food.

Both the drinks and the desserts follow the common thread of delving into the roots, which is why there is no shortage of the famous pisco sour, the chicha morada made with corn culli and its characteristic sweet flavor. To finish the journey through the most Inca tradition, two of their most requested desserts: the Lima sigh (5.50 euros) with a homemade vegan dulce de leche (they make it with dates) and topped with a vegetable meringue, decorated with cinnamon and berries. And the tres leches cake where vegetable soy, almond and oat milks bathe this emblematic dessert for so many Latin people (4.80 euros).

The chef Renzo Isaac Vincenti Paz. Image provided by Los Andenes restaurant.Thomas Bedwin

The restaurants are doing well. Which is a relief, since the chef has made several big bets on his professional career. The first, leaving a restaurant where he already had “everything.” “I bet everything on my ideas and my convictions and I embarked on the adventure of creating something that would carry my values ​​as its flag.” The second, unsuccessful opening, eleven days before the pandemic in Cava Baja, meant throwing “three years’ savings in one minute into the trash.”

Renzo is preparing the opening of his third restaurant, where he will also delve into the legacy of his ancestors to “show people that you can eat 100% vegetables without that being at odds with the pleasure of enjoying a themed restaurant.”

Tres leches cake. Image provided by Los Andenes restaurant.THOMAS BEDWIN

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