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

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

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

http://www.piscotrail.com/

 

18 Reasons

https://18reasons.org/

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.

 

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Food Sake Tokyo Update

Food Sake Tokyo

Yukari & Shinji Sakamoto – photo by Gary Stollar

It is the middle of the rainy season. We have been enjoying katsuo (skipjack tuna or bonito) as sashimi, much fatter than usual this time of year as the fish are swimming up north. In the fall when they return south is when they will be really rich in fat. As ume (Japanese apricots, Prunus mume) are in the market we are busy making pickled umeboshi, ume jam, and sweet umeshu for an aperitif later this year.

Izakaya Sakamoto

Katsuo Sashimi

We have had some changes at our company Food Sake Tokyo, named after the book published by The Little Bookroom. The focus of our business is our market visits to Tsukiji Market, depachika, Nihonbashi, Kappabashi, and supermarkets. We really enjoying meeting new people and helping them to explore and better understand Japanese cuisine. We are thankful for their recommendations as we are starting to see friends of former clients as well as clients returning.

We would like to open a cooking school next year. To prepare for that Shinji is taking the next year off from giving tours and is studying Japanese cuisine at Tsuji Culinary School. We are not offering the evening izakaya tours for the time being.

There will be some changes to this blog as we start to include more recipes and tips for cooking at home along with our usual posts on where to eat and shop in Tokyo. Shinji’s studies will finish next March. Once we have found a kitchen to offer classes, we will update it here on our blog.

Thanks for following Food Sake Tokyo and we look forward to someday welcoming you to our kitchen. The plan is to continue offering market visits and to supplement that with cooking classes.

Taste of Culture – The Tohoku Kitchen Workshop

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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