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An AL DÍA Chefs event on July 12 featured the culinary experts of Vista Peru. Samantha Laub / AL DÍA News
An AL DÍA Chefs event on July 12 featured the culinary experts of Vista Peru. Samantha Laub / AL DÍA News

Vista Peru takes guests through sampling of Peruvian flavors

Chef Rene Arroyo and his family food prep team presented AL DÍA Chefs series guests with signature pisco, huancaína, cebiche and arroz chaufa de pescado.

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The final AL DÍA Chefs event of the summer welcomed Vista Peru head chef Rene Arroyo, his family food prep team and 55 registered guests to the cocktail hour, cooking demonstration and authentic Peruvian food tasting on July 12.

Guests, including members of the Hispanic Bar Association, educators from Cabrini University and representatives from Einstein Healthcare Network, were first invited to enjoy pisco cocktails for a post-work happy hour and networking opportunity, allowing attendees to connect with influencers in the Latino community and public, all while celebrating the Latin American cuisine of Philadelphia.

Regular guests of the summer’s chef series event were impressed with Arroyo’s dishes and discussed their favorite South American cooking as they eagerly awaited each plate presented by the Vista Peru team.  

Arroyo’s stepson and co-owner of Vista Peru Miguel Toro mixed up a large batch of pisco sours - the traditional Peruvian drink mixed simply with pisco (the Peruvian national liquor made from fermented-then-distilled grapes), lime juice, sugar and egg whites for a frothy finish to the sweet and sour beverage. Toro said the egg white adds texture to the signature drink’s body, as well as its white, foamy topping. Otherwise, the drink’s flavor is reminiscent of a strong, pisco-fueled margarita.

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Through the cooking demonstration, Chef Arroyo methodically and expertly prepared three of Vista Peru’s renowned dishes, reviewing ingredients in Spanish before his stepdaughter Patricia Alegria relayed the recipe back in English to guests. Arroyo had his team and family behind him, busily assembling and presenting the dishes, beginning with potato, olive and a slice of egg doused in a thick and kicking huancaína sauce.

The huancaína was made with yellow pepper, white cheese, red onion, garlic, evaporated milk, salt and pepper, blended with unsalted saltine crackers for thickness (a Vista Peru signature). The yellow-orange sauce is a staple picante flavor in many Peruvian dishes and offers life to any sidekick like the potato and egg. Guests scraped their plates clean and clamored about the distinctly delicious taste of the sauce until Chef Arroyo rung his wooden spoon against the back of his pan - it was time to prepare the cebiche.

Arroyo brought a hulking, locally-bought swordfish and systematically sliced the meat off the bones, careful not to waste any. Cebiche - also known to many with the spelling “ceviche” - is the regional cold seafood dish of coastal Latin American countries and Spain. There’s no cooking necessary for the dish, as the citrus, in this case lime juice, that soaks the slices of swordfish “cooks” the meat, marinating and denaturing the fish in a matter of minutes. The meat becomes slightly more firm, as if it were cooked with heat.

In addition to the lime, Vista Peru’s swordfish cebiche combines ginger juice, chopped red onion, cilantro, celery, and finally pieces of seaweed for a super-strong, tangy flavor paired with a slice of sweet potato and Peru’s choclo - jumbo and refreshing sweet corn so large it’s regularly mistaken for garlic cloves - to calm down the powerful flavors of the juice. Arroyo’s wife Rayza Dianderas served up the fresh and savory cebiche to guests on plates dripping with a layer of juice, offering seconds and thirds because the fish must be eaten, or thrown out, within a few hours of being prepared.

Arroyo and the Vista Peru team concluded their cooking demonstration and tasting with arroz chaufa de pescado, a Cantonese-influenced, wok-fried fish and rice dish seasoned with fish sauce, ginger, cumin and onion. The plate was displayed as a perfectly-rounded mound of rice, with some fried vegetables mixed in as well. The chef’s cooking, specifically Arroyo and Toro’s other restaurant El Balconcito, has been described in the past as Asian-fusion, which it embraces in a number of dishes at Vista Peru.

The food tasting took guests through a trial-run of Vista Peru’s offerings, and many left the Independence Live studio encouraged to visit the restaurant’s S 2nd Street location in the heart of Old City and attempt Arroyo’s Peruvian creations themselves. The AL DÍA Chefs series will make its anticipated return in September.

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