Peruvian high

Move over, French, Japanese, Spanish, Italian cuisines. The next hottest item on the menu to entice the Singapore palate could well be from South America - Peru, to be exact. This comes courtesy of ERU, soon to open at The Patina, Capitol Singapore. The Peruvian restaurant will be headed by consulting chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, who owns Malabar Restaurant and Bar in Lima. Chef Schiaffino, 38, may not be a household name in this part of the world yet, but he's no flash in the pan. Malabar is ranked No 11 on Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list in 2014, and No 95 on last year's World's 100 Best Restaurants list.

Speaking to BT Weekend over the phone at the start of a weeknight dinner service at Malabar, Chef Schiaffino says that he had never thought about opening a restaurant in another part of the world. ERU will be his first outside Peru.

The story began about three years ago, when Jean-Luc Fourrier, director of JFL+ Associates and a veteran global hotelier and restaurateur, came knocking on Malabar's door. Mr Fourrier works closely with owners, developers and operators to create multi-cuisine restaurant and bar concepts.

"Six months later, I got a call, and Mr Fourrier asked me to open a Peruvian restaurant in Singapore," recalls Chef Schiaffino. He came to Singapore in May 2013, met the Kwee family, of Pontiac Land Group which owns Patina Hotels and Resorts, and by September, signed a contract to start the restaurant.

"I'm the sort to go with my gut feeling, and the connection with Mr Fourrier, and with the Kwee family felt right," says Chef Schiaffino. The restaurant is likely to open in August, and Chef Schiaffino will be making a few more trips to Singapore before that. After it opens, he will return to Singapore about three to four times a year. ERU, he explains, is short for Peru. The concept for the restaurant will be "about good food, good quality ingredients, and ensure that diners have a good time", says the chef. "But most importantly, making sure that the food is very authentic is my main objective."

Chef Schiaffino admits that getting the right ingredients, herbs and spices may be a little tricky, but he is confident that he will be able to find them in South-east Asia. He has visited Thailand and Indonesia before, and says "these two countries and the Philippines have the same ingredients as in Peru".

But just what is Peruvian cuisine? Chef Schiaffino describes it as a gastronomy which merges the populations of its European, Asian (both Chinese and Japanese) and Incan origins.

To keep things authentic, some ingredients will have to be shipped from Peru. Chef Schiaffino cites the example of paiche, a freshwater fish native to the Amazon basin. "It is a flavourful fish, with medium amounts of fat." The chef is working with his regular supplier to bring it into Singapore. "Let's hope things go well."

Other ingredients, he says, can be found both in his homeland, and in Singapore or around South-east Asia. They include potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains, taro and starfruit.

"Flavour-wise, there'll be a play on spicy, salty and sour," he says.

Two dishes from his Malabar restaurant that will be on the ERU menu are Escolar Adobo Style, a deep-sea fish cooked in corn beer and chilli peppers, with crispy sweet potatoes and pickled pearl onions, and the Jungle Meringue, a dessert made with smooth Tonka bean cream, tart araza meringue and seasonal Amazonian fruit.

"Peruvian food is known among foodies, so my big challenge is to introduce the cuisine to regular folks, and to make it popular," he says, adding that he is confident that it will take off.

The father of four girls, had been working with food since he was young. At 11, he and his family would vacation on the Pacific coast of Peru, where he would spend the day with fishermen, and learn fishing from them.

His parents owned a butcher shop, and that was where he learnt how to bone chicken and beef and to handle a knife.

At 18, he left Peru to study cooking at the Culinary Institute of America in New York City, and later at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners, and spent five years working in Italy.

He describes the concept at Malabar as "my personal cuisine", where he uses native ingredients, and the menu changes four times a year with the season. "The dishes here are harder to replicate," he says.

Chef Schiaffino also owns amaZ, an upscale Amazonian restaurant, where the decor, music, right down to the serving dishes are all reflective of the Amazon. The menu includes yucca bread and pickled chilli peppers from the Amazon jungle. Chef Schiaffino explains that Amazonian cuisine is part of Peruvian cuisine. "Amazonian cuisine refers to cuisines from the nine countries that share the Amazon jungle, so it is more a pan-Latin cuisine."

Besides the two restaurants, he also has a catering company which his wife helps run. And the chef also creates recipes for Aqua Expedition's cruise guests on the Amazon. The menu here is more varied, nothing is repeated on a seven-day cruise, and "is reflective of both Peruvian and Amazonian cuisines", he says.

Foodies in Singapore should consider themselves lucky that he has decided to open here. He has no plans for any other restaurants outside of Peru. "I've a lot of things to take care of in Peru," he quips.

This article was first published on May 2, 2015. Get The Business Times for more stories.