Interview with Chef Jose del Castillo of our Peru cooking vacation
Peru is perhaps best known as the country where Machu Picchu is located. But that's not the only reason to travel to this beautiful, diverse country. The gastronomy in this South American country has been influenced by the Incans, as well as Africans, Basque, Spanish, Cantonese, British, Italian, and French, due to immigration. One of your guides in discovering this eclectic cuisine is Chef Jose del Castillo, who leads a cooking class during our trip Taste of Peru. Here he talks about his own experiences in the kitchen, his favorite Peruvian dish, and more about the gastronomy of his land.
When did you first start cooking? What’s your first cooking memory?
I first started cooking as a professional chef in 2000, but I actually started many years ago, when I was 9. My mother worked here in La Red and I spent many times in this kitchen.
My first cooking memories are negatives, but positives at the same time. I remember when I made some mistakes in the kitchen, such as burning up some dish or when a customer sent me back a dish. I always learnt from those kinds of experiences and the best part is to understand how to improve your dishes and what to change for the future.
Where (and from who) did you learn about cooking?
I studied at D’Gallia Gastronomic Institute in Lima, but I have to admit that I basically learnt from my mother. Of course the D’Gallia Institute gave me the basic culinary techniques that I certainly needed, but my mother transmitted me the passion for the culinary world and the “sazon” (special taste) that my dishes have.
What’s your favorite ingredient or food to cook with? Favorite dish to make?
My favorite ingredient is “Aji Amarillo” (yellow aji chilies), which is one of the basic ingredient of the Peruvian cuisine. The dish that I prefer to cook is the traditional “ceviche," because although it seems an easy dish to make, it actually requires an excellent ability of the chef. It is a good way to test the chef’s technique, since there are specific steps that you have to follow in order to have a tasty and fresh dish.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to someone just starting to cook?
I would say that this job is very difficult, and it requires a strong commitment. Sometimes you have to work 13-14 hours per day in the kitchen and it could be very stressful. That is why there is a high percentage of people who leave cooking studies before completing them, which is a pity. So my best advice would be having a good attitude, being perseverant and conscious that things can be achieved step by step and not all together.
What do you hope people gain from your cooking class?
My classes are usually very simple and my goal is to make the participant able to cook the dish on his own once he is back home (in the case of tourists). It would be a great satisfaction if someone, who attended my cooking class, would be able to cook a ceviche for his friends and family in another country, because in this way we can also promote Peruvian cuisine and Peruvian ingredients abroad.
Anything else you’d like to share with clients of The International Kitchen?
Yes, I believe that these culinary programs, thanks to their high standard and the fact that are very well-organized, are a great way to promote Peruvian cuisine worldwide and an opportunity to show tourists that our gastronomy and our people are at the same level of other important touristic destinations.
Discover the cuisine -- and beauty -- of Peru with our cooking vacation Taste of Peru.
By Liz Hall