Palmiro Ocampo (Ccori): The chef who takes advantage of the parts that you do not eat from the food
After reading this interview it won’t be the same to peel a carrot or eat a banana, without thinking that we are not taking advantage of the product at one hundred percent. Palmiro Ocampo is the founding chef of “Ccori”, an organization where he teaches how to optimize the raw material that we consider inedible. How is he doing it? Cooking with peels, seeds, leaves, scraps or meat bones, which he uses with cooking techniques or as ingredients of a dish.
This philosophy that he follows is called optimal cooking. The chef trains with it to food programs in Peru and to some important universities in the country, which have even incorporated this trend as a curricular course of their study plan in the culinary career. In addition, he is an activist of the “Hambre Cero” initiative, supported by the United Nations food program and was host of the TV show “Cocina con causa”.
Right, at the moment we talked to him, we found him doing tests with his dishes from one of his next openings, the gastrobar “El Infusionista”. Also, he told us that in june, together with Rosario Rojas and Michel Sauvain as co-authors, they will publish the first book about edible insects in Peru, with the collaboration of the Peruvian University Cayetano Heredia.
By Fabiola Gálvez
I had heard of the trend of trash cooking but you call it optimal cooking.
I started calling it culinary recycling in 2013, but it lent itself to confusion, people thought it was grabbing food from the garbage. After a couple of years, we realized that we were one step before recycling, we were in the step of reducing waste and that is called optimizing. So the words optimal cooking come from optimizing food, it is a job that reaches low-income people, and that in their lives generates optimism. And looking for double meaning words, to cook in the world we live today, with so many environmental problems.
What led you to follow this philosophy in your profession?
In the first cycles of the gastronomy degree, there is a course called Basic culinary techniques. There, they taught us to cut the food to look for almost 45 different symmetrical shapes, cut several parts and throw them away. For me it was shocking to see how all that was wasted.
With the experience, I gained knowledge of cooking techniques, and then I started to cook what was not taking advantage of food and so I came to make a transformation with seeds, husks.
The social vein was already committed before this, because my parents were dedicated to the field of medicine, but apart from their work they did social work.
At one point, I realized that this way of cooking was a culinary concept and could be much more powerful than just staying in restaurants, especially in a country like Peru, which lacks a food security plan. What would happen if we gave this knowledge to the food programs? Well, they’re going to value it a lot, and that’s how it all began.
Most people eat a banana and the peel goes to the trash, but with you the food has 7 lives?
My way of thinking is that I can respect food using it to the fullest, like the “nose to tail” philosophy that is used with animals. Then, I started doing it with vegetables and products, and together with nutritionists and biochemists, we discovered that this part of the food has even more nutrients than the parts that we normally eat.
My perspective is to deconstruct it, to look at the ingredient, not as I have been taught but to separate it in its different parts: peduncle, stem, leaf, petiole, calyx, fruit, etc. And start to test these things separately.
For example, the stem of broccoli tastes like an artichoke, and the broccoli leaf tastes like asparagus, and broccoli itself has its own flavor as we know, and that’s what the same ingredients taught me.
You would give us some idea to optimize the food and turn it into the wonderful dishes that you prepare.
The papaya peel has papain, which is a kind of white resin. Then, you liquefy it and you will have a whitish liquid, papain is a meat tenderizer, it is useful to reduce the cooking time of second-class meat or short ribs, and thus it will be more tender, more juicy.
The fruit, of course you eat it as you already know how to eat it, and the seeds of the papaya, if you dry it in the sun, they dehydrate and put those black seeds as pepper, and then you grind them and what you are going to have a kind of Chinese mustard, wasabi because it is retronasal, it has a spicy taste but like mustard.
You were in charge of Bistro 1087. What happened to the restaurant?
Bistro 1087, we closed it almost 2 years ago, it was an investment of almost 2 million dollars with a 5 year recovery, we had it in 6 years and we could not keep the business. It was a dream that came to its end and now, I am with more profitable projects, where I put effort on my dream Ccori.
Now I have a restaurant called “Huevón”, which is based on free range eggs, and we also apply the zero waste concept, but it is a super commercial brand.
Then I have “Porno”, based on Peruvian street food, I have a local and the menu, but I still do not have a date.
And I have another one called “El Infusionista”, it’s a gastrobar. The idea is about an old drugstore, which offers a cocktail bar and a gastronomy that has healing effects, but it does not mean that you are going to be cured, that you do not go to the doctor and come with us.
Now you are developing the Ccori project. How would you define it?
Ccori is a word that comes from the ancestral Quechua of my country, it means treasure, and for us it is the map of a better Peru, without waste and without hunger.
According to FAO, children under 5 years (2014) have 30% growth retardation in rural areas and 20% in urban areas, that is, we have people starve in the city and we have people who are peasants and starve. How can this be?
I did not understand either, I have seen this through my travels and training in the country. They can sell their fresh products at a higher price, for example, if they sell a kilo of potatoes, with that money they can get their family food basket, other expenses and also get packaged products, then they change their product for this one.
There is also an aspirational topic and social status, people who live in a humble place with characteristics of the Andean area, often do not want to eat what the field produces but what is eaten in the city.
What objective have you set with Ccori for the next 5 years?
Now, to finish training to around twenty meal programs of Lurín, and at the same time, to enter a mining area in Cerro de Pasco, to start to dictate more cooking courses but already in all the universities of Peru, and later to build a way of cooking that follows this culinary concept and let many more people do this.
How was your collaboration with the book “On eating insects” of the Nordic food lab, the research center of the Noma restaurant in Copenhagen.
When I was working at Noma, I presented a dish of potatoes with chaco clay, inspired by the work of Virgilio Martínez at Central. It is a clay that has ancestral uses, and the chef René Redzepi loved it. He told me: “I would like you to go to Nordic Food Lab, to do an internship”. And there I met Ben Red, George Evans, the R & D directors. I presented them with an edible insect project about the suri [amazonian worm] and they told me they were going to Peru. At that time I did not believe it, but after a year they called me and we traveled through Tambopata, Madre de Dios, in search of edible insects. So this made me part of the book, Peru is there in 8 pages with the contribution we gave, and likewise Central, which accompanied us with the Mater Iniciativa team [Central restaurant research center].
In June, with Cayetano University, we will be launching my first book of edible insects for Peruvian gastronomy.
Thank you very much, Chef Palmiro for the interview and for making us think about eating.
What is your plan for your future as a chef?
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