Emilio Espinosa Schwarz (Pikante), chef ambassador of native potatoes from Ayacucho in Lucerne, Switzerland
Just a few months ago, the famous Gastón Acurio opened a restaurant in Geneva, another sign that Peruvian cuisine is at a good time in Switzerland, although there is still a long way to go. The chef Emilio Espinosa Schwarz, Peruvian-Swiss, with a long career of 25 years as a chef and hostelier, has settled down about two years ago in Lucerne with “Pikante”, the only Peruvian restaurant in the city.
His proposal is authentic cuisine, the dishes we tasted in his restaurant have Peruvian supplies, which are not so easy to see in Europe: different types of corn, maras salt, sacha inchi oil, charapita pepper, Andean herbs. Although for him the native potatoes, mashuas, ocas and ollucos are special, the Andean tubers that are brought during the harvest season from Condorccocha, Ayacucho, transferring that peasant-chef relationship to the alpine country itself.
In his seasonal menu inspiration, He does incredible dishes like the lomo mashua, the tiradito of ocas with cocona leche de tigre (citrus-chili-dressing) or a ceviche of tubers, even the doughs of the picarones also make them with ocas.
“La barra cevichera”, is also another experience that has in his local. The chef himself prepares ceviches, the star dish of the house, in front of the customers. Besides, his charisma helps him to explain what ingredients he uses, whetting their appetite and expanding their knowledge about Peruvian culture.
Pikante is inside the traditional Rothaus hotel, which is also run by the chef, which was transferred by the previous owner. The location of the business is fantastic, just 5 minutes from Kapellbrücke, the famous wooden bridge over the Reuss River, which links the old town with the new city.
By Fabiola Gálvez
Tell us about your origins. Are you Swiss-Peruvian?
I am from Lima, my father is Peruvian and my mother is Swiss, my grandfather [swiss] migrated very young to the Americas and married a woman from Cajamarca, and then my mother was born. My grandfather was a hotelier, he spoke 7 languages and travelled around the world.
How did you become a chef?
At the beginning of the ’80s or’ 90s, if you said “I want to be a chef”, they would tell you “how are you going to be a cook?”
I started at San Martin de Porres University, but the career was more oriented to tourism. That’s why I went to Chile to study international gastronomy.
In Chile, I worked with Emilio Peschiera. In 1992, we started the first Peruvian buffets in Santiago. After a long stay, I returned to Peru, and entered to work at Las Brujas de Cachiche, in the year 1993 to 1996, and we do a tremendous job: discovering the range of pre-Hispanic cuisine and a new version of fine Creole food at that moment.
Later, in Chiclayo, I opened “donde Emilio” in the years 1997 and 1998. Here I immersed myself in the world of ceviche, but unfortunately El Niño phenomenon arrived, and that made me change the direction. In 1998, I worked as a food and beverage assistant in Mexico, and I moved from chef to hotel manager. Here my career took off until I became regional director of the hotels. After a while, I opened restaurants in other countries and in different parts of Mexico.
And why did you open in Lucerne? Were you linked to the city or was it just an opportunity?
We are two companies that have this business, and there is an opportunity to buy the property, something we didn’t have in Zurich. I love Lucerne because it is attractive to tourists, smaller, it is not so cosmopolitan, it is more orthodox. Here, people already begin to know Pikante and we have good comments, my kitchen has a mission and high vision, sharing and respecting the traditional Peruvian cuisine and the rhythm that we have is for a local market penetrated in the German Switzerland.
Your cuisine is characterized by being Alpine-Andean. Separately, two magnificent pantries and styles. What ingredients or techniques do you use from Peru and from Switzerland?
At first, the idea was to bring an Andean-Alpine concept for my grandfather, which is my hashtag, and it is a certain influence that I bring for seasons in the menu of inspiration.
I change the menus 3 or 4 times a year, the last version was “Lima, la criolla”, the Pacific and traditional Peruvian, and “Alpine-Andean” was the combination of kumquats, pesque de quinua, salmon, trout, Andean and local herbs.
Rothaus has always had good reputation for the recipes with deer, the hunting season in the German area is October and November, and the meat of this animal is prepared a lot and people like it. So, I started making an Andean demi-glace with paico and I used the venison ribs with smoked papa seca stew, I had the lomo mashua, which was mashua puree and deer, and when I still do not have the dough, I candied the mashua and I call it the Andean truffle, asking the community of Condorccocha for permission.
In addition to opening the first Peruvian cuisine restaurant in Lucerne you are ambassador of the native potatoes of Ayacucho and you even have dishes with this raw material?
About Edilberto [Soto Tenorio, president of the National Coordinator of Producers of Potato of Peru (Corpapa)] I try to do what in that time many Lima leaders led by Gastón did, the comunero-chef agreement, the same but up here in Switzerland. Last year, in April, I went to the route of potato with them and I had the honor of being the sponsor of that edition.
Friends of Condorccocha named me “the ambassador of native potatoes in Switzerland”, and I proudly replied and I can announce it on the website. I bring organic, there are five colors in the olluco, 250 varieties of mashuas, 180 varieties of oca, it is eternal. The oca is fantastic for desserts, for mixtures, mashua is positive to fight cancer, all this is millennial, is what the ancestors ate.
The vast majority of people in Europe consume the wild olluquito, the yellow one, and red half that we know are not organic, they come with pesticides.
And has it been easy to import them?
Fortunately, in Switzerland there is a community that is doing a good job, and I have a very professional friend, María Duler, resident in Geneva, who is now selling products to Gastón, for Yakumanka at the Mandarin Hotel. I have also been very demanding as a client, they sell to the community [of Peruvians in Switzerland] but they do not realize adding new features to the service. I bring her the products, but what I bring from Ayacucho, I go there myself, because for me it’s like bringing gold powder. I love that product a lot, and since it has to come from Ayacucho to Lima, and from Lima to Switzerland, I’m very careful, so I do that independently.
How do you bring the fish here to Switzerland that there is no sea, tell us how the barra cevichera is?
The Peruvian is surprised by how I can get to have the freshness of tiger milk and fish, but there are big companies like Seinet comestibles, which is close to Pikante. The owner knows the Latin theme well and recommended the gilthead of aquaculture that comes from Greece, it is a quite versatile fish, pink flesh, tender, there is also a river gilthead, but it does not have the taste or neutrality with the contact of tiger milk .
That’s why I dared to make the ceviches in front of the clients at the barra cevichera, I explain that it is our signature dish. When I’m showing them I ask people to stretch out their hand and I put a portion of canchita, they’re eating and knowing the corn culture, it’s fun, something very small can be done big as a discipline.
The ceviche of Pikante, nowadays is very famous, and will reach the ears of many people which will be the best ceviche in Europe.
Lomo saltado of Pikante is very well known and the Swiss loves the umami of the tiger milk, the juice, the sensation of the balances that the tiger’s milk has, the chili, the cilantro and also the introduction of the Andes with the potatoes, the mashuas and the ollucos.
Thank you very much, Emilio for letting us know you better, and for keeping open the “embassy” of the Peruvian native potatoes in Switzerland.