SFO Peruvian Cooking Classes with Chef Nico Vera

We recently had the pleasure of hosting chef Nico in our Food Sake Tokyo cooking classes. After he returned to San Francisco, a Peruvian friend of ours, Janice Espa, took a cooking class with him. We are pleased to share this with you.

The following post is by guest blogger Janice Espa of San Francisco.

Nico cebiche

Chef Nico Vera

Chef Nico Vera, founder of Pisco Trail, is a culinary ambassador of Peru based in San Francisco.

Nico shares his family’s stories and recreates the dishes he learned by watching his mother cook. He also develops Pisco-based cocktails to match, and gets inspiration from other cuisines to create his own version with Peruvian ingredients.

By fate, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Nico, and see his work first hand. The story is brief and meant to be. While searching the internet for Pisco cocktail recipes in English, beyond the ubiquitous pisco sour, I came across Pisco Trail and struck gold. That same week, I received an email from Nico regarding one of my posts on Food Sake Tokyo. His search for kaiseki led him to me, Yukari, and Shinji Sakamoto. Since then, Chef Vera has toured Tsukiji market with Food Sake Tokyo, and is one of the lucky first to do a cooking class with Shinji Sakamoto.

Now, Nico Vera has created his own take of Peruvian kaiseki (kaiseki criollo). This newly acquired knowledge, together with years of cooking, teaching, and meticulous recipe testing, are what Nico shares in his San Francisco cooking classes.

Nico teaching

Chef Nico demonstrating

At 18 Reasons, a community cooking school in the Mission district, Nico keeps things simple and approachable. Instead of tackling too many things at once, he chooses one or two dishes and shows students how to make a few iterations of each. In the past, he’s taught arroz con mariscos, a rice and seafood dish that could be considered a Peruvian paella, showcased street food snacks, and has held dinners ranging from criollo (creole) to chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) cuisine.

For those new to cooking, or new to making Peruvian food at home, the experience based on Nico Vera’s instruction is not one bit intimidating. The chef makes a point to stop by all cooking stations (seven in total, for a maximum of fourteen students) as he answers questions and makes remarks.

During his ceviche masterclass, we were introduced to tiradito Nikkei and ceviche clasico. We also made an additional helping of leche de tigre (which translates to tiger’s milk), the juices from the lime mix sitting with the fish. Extra leche de tigre can be prepared and added to a dish, or be served in a glass on its own. It’s said to have livening effects. Personally, I don’t think it’s a hangover cure, it’s just delicious. I use a spoon to soak cancha, crispy corn kernels, and devour.

plating our bowls


Ceviche was a dish the Inca’s mastered, no doubt. As Nico detailed, the original dish involved fish cured with tumbo fruit and naranja agria (sour orange). Later, with the arrival of the Spaniards, onions and limes were introduced. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get the right, sour, limes to make optimal ceviche at home.

Tiradito emerged several hundred years later with the arrival of the Japanese. If ceviche is already a simple dish, tiradito keeps things even crisper: fish sliced thinly rather than cubed, and onions omitted. In the Nikkei version (Japanese-Peruvian) ginger, sesame seeds, and sometimes sweet sauces are added.

Nico Vera reminded us of Nobu. He taught us a simple, yet stunning tiradito Nikkei.

our tiradito


Today, there are hundreds of creative ways to serve both dishes. My absolute favorite is tiradito in aji amarillo. It combines the juices of a traditional ceviche, the stellar Peruvian chili ‘aji amarillo’ and the simplicity of the sashimi-style cut.

The most valuable tips we received while learning to make ceviche were on the importance of the lime and the chili, and how to find local substitutes. For example, using habanero and jalapeno peppers in California instead of the traditional rocoto and aji limo of Peru, yet making sure to always use limes, and not to confuse that with lemons.

Nico is placid and soft spoken, he evokes a sense of romanticism when he shares the history of the dishes he presents, and the traditions behind the way Peruvians enjoy certain foods. Because of his background as a mathematician, Nico is methodical and structured. This is clear during his class. He goes step by step, does a brief demo of the dishes, while students read through the recipes. His recipes have been perfected and kept simple.

As a Peruvian, and a home cook, I’ve found recreating Nico’s recipes a breeze. I also appreciate that they’re designed in a way that doesn’t involve cooking quantities to feed the entire neighborhood.

Shared table end of class

Chef Nico Vera

For recipes of traditional ceviche, tiradito Nikkei, and more, check out Pisco Trail.

If you’re in the Bay Area or a planning a visit, keep an eye out for Pisco Trail’s calendar at 18 reasons. Chef Nico might be holding an event then, and it will be worth your time.

Pisco Trail

Peruvian Cuisine and Pisco Mixology



18 Reasons


3674 18th Street

San Francisco, CA 94110


Janice Espa photo

Janice Espa

Janice Espa is a Spanish-Peruvian food enthusiast; an avid traveller and inquisitive taster who explores culture through cuisine.  Janice lives in San Francisco where she writes and styles food. Her days are spent visiting grower’s markets, checking out restaurants, and shopping at specialty stores to discover goods from every corner of the world.

Feel free to email suggestions and travel tips, or to contact Janice for her own recommendations, whether you’re visiting Peru, trekking South America or doing a road trip along the east coast of Australia.


Taste of Culture – The Tohoku Kitchen Workshop


Elizabeth Andoh’s school, Taste of Culture, is a wonder school in Tokyo for learning about Japanese cuisine and food culture. This class was on the cuisine of Tohoku. My mother is from Yamagata and I still have family there. It is always so impressive to see that the cuisine is so rich in Japan as there are always new ingredients and dishes to study. The Tohoku region has been affected by the events of March 11th, and Elizabeth’s e-cookbook, Kibō, introduces many recipes from Tohoku.


Hoshigiku, dried chrysanthemum petals, are a sheet of flower petals, almost like nori. We actually use this in our home when we make pressed sushi with unagi. In this class we used it with enoki mushrooms in a vinegar dressing. The hoshigiku here comes from Aomori prefecture, on the northernmost tip of Honshu, Japan’s main island.


Elizabeth is demonstrating how to roll a sweet miso paste into fresh shiso leaves that will later be skewered and then pan fried. This is a dish I came to know visiting family in Yamagata.


The pickles in Tohoku are some of my favorite, perhaps because they are so familiar. The packet on the left are Kinkon-zuké and on the right is iburigakoIburigakko is somewhat similar to takuan, pickled daikon, except that this has been smoked. It has a very unique flavor with the smoking of the daikon. We eat this at home, often sliced thin and with some cream cheese sandwiched in between.


Here are all of the dishes that we as a group made. A taste of the local dishes of Tohoku. I highly recommend taking a class with Elizabeth if you are visiting Tokyo, better yet if you live here. I have taken many classes throughout the year, and continue to learn from her. She is very generous with her knowledge and she is great at empowering students to take what they learn home so that the dishes continue to live. Elizabeth also offers 3-day intensive workshops if you really want to immerse yourself in Japanese cuisine. I have spoken with friends who have taken the class and they speak very highly of the program.

Taste of Culture

Taste of Tohoku at A Taste of Culture


Tohoku, in northern Japan, has a rich food culture. My mother is from Yamagata and growing up I was eating many of the regional dishes like shiso maki, a nutty miso that is rolled into a fresh shiso leaf and then sauteed in sesame oil. After the triple disaster of March 11th, Elizabeth Andoh wrote Kibō, a great collection of recipes from the Tohoku region.

Today Andoh Sensei taught a class on the cuisine of Tohoku at her school, A Taste of Culture. And, as always, I walked away with new knowledge on Japanese cuisine, and inspired to push myself and study more about this Japanese food.

Elizabeth talked about the use of dried flowers and nuts and seeds in Tohoku cuisine. Today we made a dish with dried chrysanthemum petals (hoshigiku). We also used walnuts, sesame seeds, and pine nuts. Pine nuts was a big surprise, but as Elizabeth pointed out, look at all of the pine trees in Japan. The pine nuts were toasted and chopped in a food processor and then added to a tōfu dressing (shirae) that was later used as a dressing for mitsuba and loquats (biwa).


The class is part demonstration, part hands-on. Here is Elizabeth in her kitchen getting us started on making harako meshi, a rice dish made with salmon and ikura (salmon roe).

Here are the shiso maki sauteeing in some sesame oil. This is the dish I have known since I was very young. Although, I have to admit that I think my cousins in Yamagata make theirs with a bit more sugar in the nutty miso.


We were also able to try some pickles from Tohoku. One the left is a beautiful pickle, kinkon-zuké, that is made with carrots, burdock root, and cucumber rolled into kombu, that is then squeezed into a gourd and then pickled. On the right is iburigakko, a dried pickled daikon that is smoked and pickled in tamari. Both are very rich and intense in flavor.


A Taste of Tohoku

Walnut-Miso Stuffed Shiso Leaves

Dried Chrysanthemum Petals and Enoki Mushrooms in a Vinegar Dressing

Loquats and Trefoil in Pine Nut Tōfu Sauce

Kinkon-Zuké “Mosaic” Pickle and Iburikgakko Smoked Daikon Pickle

Salmon and Ikura (Parent and Child) Rice

Miso Soup with Eggplant, Wakame, and Scallions

Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjō

A Taste of Culture’s Website

Kibō Website