“There are naked ladies in there!” gasped a member of our tour group. We had arrived before the restaurant opened, and she was peeking through a tiny gap in the door at Malabar, the third of four top-rated restaurants on Bold Food’s culinary tour of Lima.
People come to Malabar to eat world-class Peruvian food, but their first impression of the restaurant may be the portrait of two nude swimmers by Colombian artist Heriberto Cogollo at the entrance. It’s just one of a collection of Latin American and Peruvian art throughout the restaurant.
Our group chatted amiably and admired the artwork as we sipped perfectly balanced el capitan cocktails before heading up to Taller Malabar. The Taller, or workshop, is a space over the kitchen that serves as a private demo space where we would have the incredible honor of having Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino cook for us. (Some people may remember Chef Schiaffino from Anthony Bourdain’s 2013 visit to Peru on “Parts Unknown.”) Chef Schiaffino hosts his own TV show in Peru called “From the Garden”, and our amazing local guide, Vanessa Vazquez, was quite star struck.
Malabar specializes in using Peruvian ingredients, both from its own farm and sourced directly from local producers. The restaurant also has it own fermentation program. Chef Schiaffino’s second restaurant, Amaz, specializes in Amazonian ingredients and dishes. He is the first chef in Lima to focus on dishes from the Amazon, and the reception has been very positive.
As soon as we were seated at our demo table, Chef Schiaffino began preparing the first dish: peeled hearts of palm with toasted yucca, nuts and nut oils. The chef told us about the ingredients, showed us what palm looked like in its raw form and described how everything was made. This was the third night of the Lima tour, and we had already enjoyed extensive tasting menus at Maido and Central—two of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in South America--so we were happy when the chef told us that he would be preparing light, simple fare.
The second dish, a combination of luscious Peruvian avocado, asparagus and aji negro, was my favorite. Aji negro is fermented yucca juice, which I think of as Peruvian soy sauce. It’s a bit salty and full of rich umami flavors. We can’t get fermented yucca in the U.S. yet, but I’m hoping that will change soon. Peru is the world’s largest exporter of asparagus, and we were lucky enough to eat the first-ever asparagus crop from Malabar’s farm.
The avocado dish was followed by a corn tostada made with a corn crisp and corn sprouts, then by an incredible stewed fish dish with house-made corn beer known as chicha, then by crispy guinea pig with house-made kimchi, and, finally, by local duck with roasted pumpkin and cilantro rice. Dessert was cherimoya sorbet with meringue, toasted red quinoa, and dried oca chips. Oca is a native Andean tuber that is packed with carbohydrates and becomes a bit sweet when dried.
Throughout the dinner, Chef Schiaffino was eager to address our questions, and he even revised the menu to incorporate ingredients in which we showed interest.
Of all of our amazing dinners in Lima, Malabar’s was the one where we learned the most about Peruvian ingredients and preparations. Chef Schiaffino is passionate about his food and about his native cuisine. Having him at our table, showing us his artistry and answering all of our questions, was priceless. I have been to Malabar multiple times now, and the food has been exceptional each time.
It seems fitting that our first impression of the artwork and our last impression of Chef Schiaffino and the food at Malabar were equally as inspiring.
If you want to join us for our next culinary vacation to Peru, we will be returning to Lima in 2018 from Jan 31 to Feb 4, and July 18 to 22.